We received a request earlier this morning to reprint an op-ed piece that was published in today’s Daily News. It was written by David Silverman, one of the main champions behind the Save Coral Bay movement. It’s a great read for those of you who are interested in the goings on of the proposed megamarina in Coral Bay. Here it is:
Summers End Marina Developer is Wasting Public Resources by David Silverman
“We can hope that the next developer will learn from the lessons of this developer and spend more time listening to the public and less time listening to their own greed.”
In early January of this year, the United States Army Corps of Engineers published a Public Notice announcing a public comment period for a proposed mega yacht marina in Coral Bay, St John. The applicant, the “Summers End Group,” was proposing construction of a 145-slip marina covering almost half of Coral Bay Harbor — 28 acres — built on 1,333 steel pilings and providing slips for mega yachts of up to 210 feet in length.
This massive marina was proposed to be built directly on top of prime sea turtle habitat and adjacent to healthy mangroves that provide a unique pupping ground for black tip and lemon sharks.
On the exposed, windward side of Coral Bay harbor, this marina was simply a very bad idea, far too large and too damaging to the environment.
In response to the Public Notice, more than 13,000 letters were submitted to the Army Corps along with more than 1,000 pages of formal comments — including expert reports on economics, navigation, water quality, ecosystems, and shark habitat, and a petition with more than 5,000 signatures — all opposed to the marina designed by the Summers End Group.
And if this weren’t enough, five federal agencies submitted extensive comments, all opposed to the issuance of a permit for this project.
The United States Environmental Protection Agency declared all of Coral Bay to be an “Aquatic Resource of National Importance,” a designation that gives the EPA absolute veto power over any Army Corps permit that does not conform to the recommendations of the EPA.
And what was the explicit recommendation of the EPA? They said: “EPA recommends denial of a Department of the Army permit for this project.”
In March of this year, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rescinded a Boating Infrastructure Grant that had been awarded to the Summers End Group. And the reason for the FWS decision was clearly stated. After listing 21 individual serious environmental concerns, they said that the project was ineligible for funding because it would “significantly degrade or destroy valuable resources or alter the cultural or historic nature of the area.”
When the Fish and Wildlife Service withdrew from the project, it was bounced like a hot potato back into the hands of the Army Corps of Engineers.
The Corps assigned a new project manager, took a fresh look at the application and decided that the original application was incomplete according to Army Corps regulations. They told the applicant to resubmit.
Amazingly, the Summers End Group resubmitted virtually the same, identical application.
Their only change was to remove the 75 position public mooring field from their plans.
They still wanted a permit for the marina that had been universally decried as environmentally destructive, in an unsuitable location, and found to be unworthy of a permit by five separate federal agencies.
We are now in receipt of a new Army Corps “Public Notice” announcing a new 45-day public comment period. The Corps has stated that “since this is a new public notification procedure, we encourage all agencies and the general public to submit new comments in response to this Public Notice, even if comments were submitted in response to the previous Public Notice.”
That means all federal agencies, all environmental organizations, all 15,000 members of the public who previously commented are being “encouraged” to resubmit their comments.
Keep in mind, nothing has changed in the marina design. Nothing has changed in the extensive land development.
In the prior application, the Summers End Group claimed that the mooring field would protect 16 acres of aquatic vegetation. Now that they’ve removed the mooring field, they’ve removed that claimed mitigation.
So it is the same environmentally destructive marina with even less compensatory mitigation than they previously claimed to provide.
Something is very wrong with this picture. There are two appeals pending before the Virgin Islands Board of Land Use Appeals (BLUA) that could very likely reverse the decisions of the St John CZM Committee. The Legislature and the governor have correctly declined to act on the CZM permits while the BLUA appeals are pending.
The governor has said publicly that the marina is too large for Coral Bay and that the bay can’t handle it.
Every federal agency that has submitted comments has said that a permit should not be issued. And the EPA has declared its authority to veto any permit that it finds inconsistent with its recommendations.
And yet, the Summers End Group is apparently deaf to this overwhelmingly negative flood of comments.
They are issuing press releases saying their marina will be operational in 2016. They are actively soliciting new investment, and have even begun an online campaign to offer “slip reservations” to the general public.
It is apparent that the Summers End Group does not face the reality that their project will never be approved.
The waste in public and private resources involved in reviewing, commenting, and legitimately opposing this project is staggering. Financial and human resources that could be deployed in improving the environment are instead mobilized to protect the environment from the destructive development proposal of the Summers End Group.
Fortunately, with the experience, materials and knowledge gained in the first round of comments, this second round will be easier to execute.
When private developers refuse to listen to public concerns, everyone loses. I am confident that this project, and any project similar to this one, will never be constructed in Coral Bay .
We can hope that the next developer will learn from the lessons of this developer and spend more time listening to the public and less time listening to their own greed.
Please visit www.SaveCoralBay.com for more information.