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Questions Aplenty at Permit Meeting for Coral Bay FirstNet Construction

St. John residents joined a CZM permit meeting by way of live video conference Tuesday night. (Source photo by Judi Shimel)

Concerned citizens convened for a virtual meeting of the St. John Coastal Zone Management Board on Tuesday night. Two requests for building permits were on the agenda, including one to construct an emergency communications tower serving Coral Bay.

About 48 people logged onto the Microsoft Teams session, which lasted more than two hours. Most of the discussion focused on Liberty Mobile USVI, Inc.’s proposed construction of a FirstNet tower. Residents attending the video conference questioned the location, safety, and reliability of the device chosen to serve the eastern part of St. John.

FirstNet is a national broadband network serving emergency responders across the U.S.  Liberty Communications Government Affairs Counsel Wanda Perez Alvarez said the site at Parcel 6-4-1, No. 1 Coral Bay Quarter was the government’s choice for construction.

“Given that we are limited to a very specific area, this is the best area … we need to meet the FirstNet Commitment,” Alvarez said.

Coral Bay resident Laurie Francis identified herself as the homeowner living closest to the construction site. She and others asked if the device was tested for wind speed durability.

“What is the wind rating of the pole?” Francis said, voicing concerns that her home could be damaged if the pole were to fall.

Coral Bay resident David Silverman and former Coral Bay Community Council President Sharon Coldren questioned why details about the plans were changed in last-minute modifications before the meeting was held.

CZM Director Marlon Hibbert read letters at the meeting that were sent in by other local residents. Lorelei Monsanto said she opposed the permit because the site identified by Liberty had previously been designated as a public recreation site by the V.I. government; later on the same site was chosen by WAPA to build an emergency generator.

Coldren also asked Liberty representatives whether the FirstNet device would perform to expectations. “There has never been any scientific information to show how the FirstNet service will provide adequate emergency service communication with the tower in that proposed location,” she said. “We don’t even know if it will reach the fire station.”

However, the former council president acknowledged that she attended several meetings during the plan’s development. Alvarez said those talks gave the community a chance to have their voices heard.

“We listened to the community; we lowered the height of the tower. We also listened to the concerns about the water flow, but this is the site we have leased and this is the site we are seeking the CZM permit for,” Alvarez said.

Other participants asked if the changes in the proposed tower height would lead to a new round of public hearings before wireless permits were issued. Hibbert said yes.

The other permit applicant before the St. John CZM board was the nonprofit Animal Care Center. Center operators are seeking a permit to build a larger shelter in Coral Bay than the one they have operated in Enighed-Contant for the past 20 years. Once completed, they said, the new facility would accommodate 20 dogs and 19 cats.

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