In an 11th hour change, Thursday evening’s town hall meeting on the proposed boat ramp development at Hull Bay will now be held at the Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources has announced.
The meeting was to have taken place from 6 to 8 p.m. at The Shack at Hull Bay, but as opposition to the plan has grown, with thousands signing an online petition criticizing the scope and purpose of the project, DPNR said that location would no longer accommodate the expected turnout.
The last-minute change created confusion, with many using social media to post a flyer announcing the change, apparently from DPNR, but unsure whether it was to be trusted or not.
DPNR spokesperson Jamal Nielsen confirmed Thursday morning that the change in venue is legitimate.
Additionally, an email address that DPNR distributed on Wednesday for public comment ahead of Thursday’s meeting was incorrect. The correct email is DFWelectronic@usvi.onmicrosoft.com.
Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. weighed in Wednesday on the growing controversy surrounding the proposed boat ramp development at Hull Bay, saying it is a promise fulfilled to the fishers of the Northside.
The project has drawn opposition from residents who allege it is being done to benefit a private business that has a boutique resort and restaurant at the beach, and that the changes threaten to lead to the gentrification of the area, as well as environmental harm.
More than 2,600 people had signed a Change.org petition against the ramp and other planned construction as of Thursday morning, with many implying that the project is being done to benefit the owners of The Shack restaurant and The Hideaway at Hull Bay, the resort featuring two villas and eight cottages that opened in January 2022 across the street from the beach.
The government disputes those assertions, and late Wednesday afternoon Bryan issued a statement defending the plans for the boat ramp, which serves Northside fishers as well as recreational boaters.
“Five years ago, as I campaigned for Governor, I promised the fishers of Hull Bay and the residents of Northside that a Bryan Roach Administration would move on the proposed Hull Bay project to expand the boat ramp and make improvements to parking to ensure the convenient use of the area for both our fishers and recreational beachgoers,” Bryan said in his statement.
“That promise came from the demand from our local fishers and my personal penchant for progress and seeing Virgin Islanders benefit from that progress. And so, concerning this project, I affirmed that a Bryan-Roach Administration would pursue, to the fullest extent of what is legally feasible, the demands of the fishers and residents of Northside. We have done that. We held public town hall meetings more than a year ago again to solicit the input of Northside’s fishers and residents and inform them of the project’s status,” Bryan continued, referring to a meeting in February 2022 at which the plan drew heated criticism.
“So, it is disappointing that, after more than a year and a half since that Town Hall and five years since that commitment, and perhaps months away from shovels in the ground, special interests want us back in 2011 in the conceptual phases of this needed and demanded capital improvement project,” Bryan stated.
The Hull Bay ramp renovation project was initiated in 2011. The first set of design plans were unveiled in 2013 after two rounds of public meetings, the release stated. Due to funding factors, the full construction documents were not completed. In 2017, renewed funding allowed for a second round of public meetings and subsequent designs. “Unfortunately, the Hull Bay ramp collapsed in February 2019 and funds were re-programmed to fix the ramp,” it said.
“Now we have a third opportunity to create a stronger, more durable boating ramp with associated trailer parking in Hull Bay,” DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol stated in a separate release. “We’re improving the parking for beachgoers as well.”
Since the architectural and engineering plans were unveiled, DPNR has received comments on the plans ranging from concern about continued public use of the ramp during construction, to the size and scope of the development and the removal of trees, the release stated.
The current ramp will stay in place while the new ramp is under construction and will be removed afterwards, according to DPNR.
The existing ramp is just short of 100 feet in length and the proposed ramp is 120 feet in length. The new ramp will have a lower pitch and the extension will end in 4.5 feet of water, making it easier to launch vessels, without having to place one’s vehicle into the water, according to the government. The extension of the ramp was part of the discussions going back to 2011 and was included in the 2013 designs, Oriol said.
The scope of the project was extended to address parking for the vessel launch, as parking specifically to address trailer use is a necessary part of planning a vessel launch. “We’re proposing to create proper parking for vehicles and the trailers attached to them,” Oriol said.
The plans call for a total of 13 trees to be removed, 10 of which will be replaced, DPNR said.
“What’s in front of us is a long-term fix — and not patchwork — of the issues relating to public access of this area. We’re coming up with a solution,” Oriol said.
In a bid to keep order at Thursday’s meeting at 6 p.m. at Charlotte Amalie High School, attendees will be required to sign up at the beginning and state if they wish to provide comment to the department and engineers. Those who sign up will be called upon in the order in which they signed in to speak at the end of the presentation, DPNR said. Comments may also be submitted in advance to DFWelectronic@usvi.onmicrosoft.com.