At a session lasting more than six hours on Friday, the Senate approved a bill to ratify permits that will allow the Summer’s End Marina project in Coral Bay, St. John, to move forward.
Bill No. 33-0428 was passed with seven senators voting to approve the measure, three voting against, and two not voting. Three senators were absent.
The bill will be sent to Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. for further action, but it’s a pretty safe bet that he will sign the bill since he was the one who made the modifications to the permits that were under consideration by the Senate on Thursday.
It has taken six years for the Summer’s End Group, the developers of the marina, to get this far in the approval process. The project has generated controversy since it was first approved in 2014 and has continued to divide the community and perplex members of the Senate as recently as last July.
“We’ve had this application in the Legislature for too long. Before [this session] dissolves, we have to act,” said. Sen. Myron Jackson. Jackson, along with Sens. Oakland Benta, Marvin Blyden, Novelle E. Francis Jr., Donna Frett-Gregory, Javan E. James Sr. and Steven D. Payne Sr. voted to approve the marina permits.
Sens. Dwayne M. DeGraff, Janelle Sarauw and Athniel Thomas voted against the measure. During a brief debate prior to the vote, DeGraff said he was troubled by questions involving property ownership of some parcels of the land on which the development will be built.
Jackson, who said he was related to one of the families involved in disputes over land, said he expected the issues to be resolved.
Sens. Alicia M. Barnes and Kurt A. Vialet chose not to vote on the matter, and Senators Allison L. DaGazon, Kenneth L. Gittens and Stedmann Hodge Jr. were absent.
A last-minute attempt by Jackson to amend the bill to include language that justified the Legislature’s approval of the development was voted down prior to the final vote. Vialet said the amendment would open a Pandora’s Box by introducing new language that could lead to further challenges to the bill’s legality.
The plan for the Summer’s End Marina, known at various times also as The Yacht Club at Summer’s End and St. John Marina, has evolved over the past six years.
In its present form, it includes 144 slips for vessels with eight slips for mega-yachts, a fuel dock, potable water, wastewater pump-out facilities, restaurants, retail shops, a boardwalk and a local fish and farmers market. The developers have said they would provide space for an office for Customs and Border Protection. The marina will use 27.5 acres of submerged lands within Coral Bay harbor for its docks.
Chaliese Summers, member manager of the Summer’s End Group, said the Senate’s approval marked a big win for St. Johnian families.
“I am exceedingly proud of our entire Summer’s End team, led by co-founder Robert ‘Bob’ O’Connor Jr. and his vision of a thriving and sustainable St. John economy and the empowerment of local St. Johnians.”
Before construction can begin, the project needs to be approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and other federal agencies.
“As the federal permit is finalized for the St. John Marina and the project moves into construction, Summer’s End looks forward to the continuation of working with local advisors, community members, Gov. Bryan and his administration, as well as National Marine Fisheries Service and the Department of the Army to ensure that St. John’s new marina is a cornerstone of sustainability in the future of the island’s culture, economy and environment,” Summers said.
Opponents said they will continue to challenge the project. David Silverman, president of Save Coral Bay, a grass-roots organization founded six years ago to oppose the development, said, “The vote by seven members of the Virgin Islands Legislature to approve development of a mega-yacht marina in Coral Bay on land not owned by the developers was a sad event for the people of the Virgin Islands.”
“As I testified before the Legislature earlier this year, an approval of these illegal, flawed permits will not resolve the numerous disputes currently in court and will not move the project forward. All they will do is provide fodder for another round of legal challenges, which will only enrich the lawyers and leave much-needed development in Coral Bay on the sidelines for years to come,” Silverman said.
Silverman pointed to current ongoing litigation that has to be resolved.
“Without the resolution of six ongoing lawsuits involving Summer’s End, the Office of the Governor and CZM this project cannot proceed,” he said. “Without permission from the Army Corps of Engineers, this project cannot proceed. And without some investor providing $35 million in development capital to an entity which has never developed anything, whose principal has previously filed for bankruptcy and who is embroiled in multiple lawsuits, this project cannot proceed. I am disappointed in our Legislature for succumbing to personal and political pressure.”