The battle surrounding a proposal to build a controversial marina in Coral Bay became even more complicated this week with the removal of one of St. John’s Coastal Zone Management Committee members.
On Tuesday, Governor Albert Bryan Jr. sent a letter to Coral Bay resident David Silverman, informing Silverman of Bryan’s decision to remove him as a member of the St. John Committee of CZM, a community decision-making board that must approve major developments near the shoreline.
Bryan’s action against Silverman – one of the founders of Save Coral Bay, an advocacy group that opposes the marina – comes at a time when crucial decisions regarding development on St. John remain pending.
Silverman has served as one of five members of STJ-CZM for nearly two years. In addition, he has led the charge against a plan by the Summer’s End Group to develop a mega-yacht marina in Coral Bay since it was first approved by St. John Coastal Zone Management in 2014; that was four years before Silverman became a member of the CZM committee.
In July, Save Coral Bay filed a lawsuit in Superior Court against Gov. Bryan and the Summer’s End Group contesting the permit issued to the developers of the 144-slip marina, which was modified by Gov. Bryan in January after years of legal wrangling. Silverman’s role at Save Coral Bay is well known throughout the territory. Silverman has said he would recuse himself from any CZM vote on matters related to the Summer’s End Group’s project.
In his letter to Silverman informing him of his removal, Bryan wrote, “It pains me to author this letter, but it has become apparent that your position as President and the actions you have taken on behalf of Save Coral Bay (the Coral Bay Group) have resulted in direct conflicts with your roles and responsibilities as a Commissioner of the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Commission, St. John Committee.”
The letter continued, “While at times the goals and decisions of the CZM Committee and the philosophy of the “Save Coral Bay” Group harmonize for the benefit of the people of the Virgin Islands; there are times when these decisions … are at odds. Under these occasions, you have demonstrated that the objectives and views of the Coral Bay Group, in your view, have precedence over that of the CZM Committee.”
Bryan commended Silverman for his “passionate and tireless efforts in serving the people of the Territory” and thanked him for his service as a member of CZM-STJ committee.
Silverman received dozens of messages of support for his activism on Wednesday when he announced his removal from the CZM-STJ committee on the Coral Bay Discussion Facebook Group.
Although some community members said they were ready to go to battle on his behalf, Silverman wrote that he wouldn’t contest Bryan’s decision. “It would be pointless for me to appeal this since my appointment by Governor Mapp to a two-year term would have expired on October 12, 2020, at which point I could have been removed without any need for explanation,” he wrote.
Until the news broke Wednesday, Silverman was expected to take part in the CZM-STJ committee’s meeting Thursday to decide on an application permit for Cowgirl Bebop, a floating lounge that would be moored near Mingo Cay in Pillsbury Sound.
Cowgirl Bebop has generated some controversy since it was first proposed last fall, but not nearly as much as the Summer’s End Group’s plan for their marina project, which has been rebranded as the St. John Marina.
A decision on whether to approve the Summer’s End Group’s marina plan remains before the Senate. At a meeting of the Senate’s Committee of the Whole at which senators tried to untangle the convoluted history of the permitting process, Sen. Kurt Vialet suggested sending the permit application back to be decided once and for all by the CZM-STJ committee.
Silverman’s termination from the committee Tuesday would leave it with only four members and could affect the outcome if a decision-making meeting is held.
The situation involving Silverman’s termination became even more complicated when Silverman revealed that it was instigated by another member of the CZM-STJ committee.
“My removal was prompted by a letter from another CZM Committee member, Brion Morrisette, to the Governor,” Silverman wrote. “Attorney Morrisette claimed, incorrectly, that the lawsuit sought to reverse a decision of the St John CZM Committee, thereby undermining the authority of the Committee.”
Silverman continued, “Nothing could be farther from the truth: the lawsuit sought to uphold the authority of CZM by challenging unlawful modifications made to a permit approved by the Committee. Contrary to the erroneous claims of Attorney Morrisette, the lawsuit does not challenge any permit approved by the St John CZM Committee.”
Ironically, Morrisette himself was accused of having a conflict of interest when he was a member of the CZM-STJ committee in 2014 that originally approved the permit for the Summer’s End Group.
At that time, there were only three members serving on the committee. Morrisette, who had prior legal and business dealing with some of the principals of the Summer’s End Group, recused himself from the final vote. The permit was approved by a vote of 2-0.