A Superior Court judge’s ruling removed one legal hurdle for the developers of a mega-yacht marina in Coral Bay on St. John.
Judge Renee Gumbs Carty upheld a motion on Wednesday to dismiss a lawsuit against Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. and the Summer’s End Group, LLC, which has been seeking to build a 144-slip marina and shoreline development since 2014. Once known as the Yacht Club at Summer’s End, the project is now branded as The St. John Marina.
The lawsuit, filed by Save Coral Bay, a community action group opposed to the marina, challenged the governor’s approval of modifications made to the project’s Coastal Zone Management permit.
The modified permit was subsequently approved by the Virgin Islands Legislature and signed into law.
In its complaint, Save Coral Bay contended that the modifications made to the permit were done to circumvent laws that would have required the Summer’s End Group to reapply for a new Coastal Zone Management permit for the marina; that process would have triggered further environmental studies and another round of public hearings.
“Consequently, because an updated environmental assessment was not done, the Legislature was not informed of any adverse impacts that may occur,” the judge stated in the Factual and Procedural Background section of the ruling.
Save Coral Bay was seeking “a declaratory judgment asking this court to render invalid a consolidated permit and its modification that has undergone the scrutiny of the appropriate committees, board and respective federal and territorial agencies,” the ruling continued. “The separation of powers doctrine precludes this court from interfering in the executive and legislative processes unless there is a clear violation of the law.”
Attorney Andrew Simpson, speaking on behalf of Save Coral Bay, said he respectfully disagreed with the court’s ruling.
“Save Coral Bay does not believe it is a separation of powers issue,” he said.
Furthermore, “The governor sent the Legislature a modification letter that claimed that the modifications improved the environmental consequences of the project,” Simpson said. “By operation of law, that modification letter was ratified when the Legislature took no action within 30 days of the letter. But the claims made in the letter were demonstrably untrue. The modifications have a significant adverse impact on the environment.”
Simpson said Save Coral Bay may appeal the decision.
Attorney Boyd Sprehn, speaking on behalf of the Summer’s End Group, applauded the court’s decision.
“The Summer’s End Group appreciates the swift resolution of this case,” Sprehn said. “As noted by Judge Gumbs Carty, the CZM process is designed to be completed in less than a year; this project has now been more than seven years in the making.”
“Summer’s End Group has won approval before the Coastal Zone Management Committee of St. John, the Board of Land Use Appeals [twice], approvals from Governors DeJongh and Bryan and ratification by the 33rd Legislature after two full days of hearings. Again, as the court stated, there are no colorable claims, and this matter was properly brought to conclusion,” Sprehn said.
Although this particular issue may have been resolved, the Summer’s End Group still has a long way to go before the marina can be built, according to David Silverman, president of Save Coral Bay. Arguably, the court order brings the process of trying to appeal SEG’s CZM permit closer to an end. However, two writ of review appeals, as well as any potential appeal to the V.I. Supreme Court of the recent ruling, are still pending, he said.
Furthermore, Silverman said the marina’s developers must also acquire a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
“Based on recent conversations with federal agencies involved in the Summer’s End Group/Army Corps permit review, it appears that any decision, to approve or to deny a permit, is a very long time away,” he said. Silverman cited unresolved objections to the marina raised by the National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The developers are also facing lawsuits from Coral Bay property owners regarding the use of their properties for the marina.
“Summer’s End Group will need to win all of these lawsuits in order to proceed with their project. That outcome seems doubtful to me,” Silverman said.
In a written statement, Chaliese Summers, member manager of the Summer’s End Group, LLC, thanked the governor, Legislature and other government entities for their work in moving the project forward.
“On behalf of Summer’s End, and in honor of the vision of co-founder, the late Robert O’Connor Jr., it has been an honor and inspiration to work to secure approvals and maximize environmental and economic benefits for local St. Johnians and Virgin Islanders that will be realized by bringing the first ever marina to St. John,” Summers said.