Acclaimed Environmental Firm Provides Free Legal Assistance To Save Coral Bay

CORAL BAY — The Save Coral Bay group announced the nationally-acclaimed environmental law firm of Sive, Paget & Riesel will be providing pro bono legal assistance to the ad hoc community group during the federal review of the permit application for a mega-yacht marina in Coral Bay. 

Attorney Maggie Macdonald and senior partner Mark Chertok of SPR will be joining forces with lead counsel Robert Fox and Jonathan Rinde, of Manko-Gold, to provide additional depth and expertise in the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) process, a component of the Army Corps of Engineers (ACOE) permit review, according to a press release from David Silverman on behalf of Save Coral Bay, an ad hoc group of concerned residents and visitors.

More Than $85,000 Raised for Lawyers
As of Thursday, January 8, 2015, Save Coral Bay had raised more than $85,224 from 723 people in three months on the internet fundraising site towards a goal of $100,000, but the effort accomplished more than that, according to Silverman, a protagonist in the formation of the community group to fight the proposal by the Summers End Group to fill much of Coral Harbor with a 145-slip marina.

“(A)ll of the funds donated to the Save Coral Bay group are deposited with the Coral Bay Community Council CBCC,” Silverman e-mailed St. John Tradewinds.

“These two groups are distinct, independent organizations. There is considerable overlapping participation, however,” the community activist wrote. “Those funds are managed by a Save Coral Bay Steering Committee consisting of five members, two of whom are also on the boards of the CBCC.”

All Save Coral Bay decisions about retaining counsel, legal strategy, and public relations are made solely by the Save Coral Bay group, without involvement of the CBCC, Silverman emphasized.

On Line Community of Support
“What did we accomplish in 2014? Starting from nothing, we built an online community of 3,500 supporters rallying around the mission to Save Coral Bay from irresponsible, environmentally destructive development,” Silverman wrote in a posting on the fundraising site. “We launched a fund-raising campaign and in less than three months we raised over $80,000 from 700 individual donors, all money dedicated to preventing destruction of Coral Bay, and supporting sustainable improvements to the harbor.”

“We submitted hundreds of letters, over a thousand pages of comments, hours of oral testimony, all pointing to serious defects in the Coastal Zone Management application and the project proposed by the Summers End Group,” Silverman continued. “We used all of that testimony as the basis for two legal appeals to the CZM permits granted in October. Those appeals have now stopped the action of the CZM committee at least until the hearings are completed.”

Lawyer With Understanding of St. John
Attorney Macdonald first learned of the Save Coral Bay initiative through an e-mail from the Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park organization, which struck a chord with her for a number of reasons, according to Silverman. 

Being a regular visitor to St. John, and having recently stayed at the Concordia Eco-Resort, Atty. Macdonald knows how beautiful and diverse the island’s natural environment is, and therefore understands the critical importance of preservation and sustainable development on St John, according to Silverman.

Atty. Macdonald also wrote an undergraduate thesis for the Harvard University History of Science Department on the history and establishment of the Virgin Islands National Park, the Coral Bay community activist added.

Atty. Chertok’s resume reads like a textbook of major, precedent-setting environmental casework, according to Save Coral Bay’s Silverman.

Atty. Chertok has successfully represented environmental groups in major lawsuits for decades, including those under NEPA and the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA).

The Sive, Paget & Riesel firm (SPR) has been a recognized leader at the cutting edge of environmental law since it was founded over fifty years ago, according to the Coral Bay group.

Spanning Environmental Law
Their practice spans all areas of environmental law, and most critically for the Save Coral Bay group, attorneys Macdonald and Chertok have handled a number of high-profile matters involving environmental impact review under NEPA and have navigated the complexity of Army Corps of Engineers permitting, including water quality and wetlands and have handled matters subject to NHPA review. 

SPR’s work on waterfront development projects, including NEPA review and defending challenges to environmental impact statements, as well as defending permit challenges makes SPR uniquely aware of strategies and tactics for successfully opposing such projects, either through litigation or other means, Silverman wrote.

“I believe with Mark’s and my experience in NEPA, ACOE permitting, NHPA review, and my personal interest and academic background in the history of preservation on St John, we are well suited to work with Manko-Gold on behalf of the Save Coral Bay group,” Atty. Macdonald said.

“The addition of the team from Sive, Paget and Riesel will complement the in-depth experience that Manko-Gold has in the Army Corps process,” wrote Robert Fox, of Manko-Gold. “Their experience in National Environmental Protection Act litigation is unparalleled and we are thrilled to have them on the Save Coral Bay team.”

Additional Lawyers Working pro bono
“With the addition of Maggie Macdonald and Mark Chertok to the team we currently have in place, we have now assembled a powerhouse of legal talent that will cover every avenue of defense in the protection of Coral Bay harbor from environmentally destructive development,” said Silverman, speaking on behalf of the Save Coral Bay group. “We are thrilled that they have offered their services pro bono, recognizing the critical importance of this case to the future of St John.”

In addition to the two new attorneys in the Save Coral Bay federal team, the local appeal of the Summers End Group CZM permits continues to be handled by attorneys Jennifer Jones, of St Thomas, and Andrew Simpson of St Croix.

2015 Agenda for Save Coral Bay
What is on the agenda for Save Coral Bay in 2015?

“We will continue to apply pressure to ensure that mega yachts, mega marinas, and environmentally destructive development is finally rejected for Coral Bay,” said Silverman. “We will begin the process of planning for the improvements that are sought by all of the residents and stakeholders in the Coral Bay community — people who were born here, people who have moved here, people who visit here.”

“We will make concrete progress, in conjunction with the Coral Bay Community Council, to support activities to clean the harbor, improve water quality, remove sunken boats and clean the shoreline,” the activist added. “We will monitor other large scale development projects in Coral Bay and provide a forum for discussion, and a forum for action when required, to ensure these projects truly meet the needs and expectations of the broad community.”