JOHN’S FOLLY — About 30 people came out to John’s Folly Learning Institute, some from as far as St. Thomas, to hear more about Summers End Group’s planned mega marina for Coral Bay at Coral Bay Community Council’s Weekly Forum on Monday, January 19.
“We had a really nice turn out, about 30 people with some who came from as far as St. Thomas to find out what is going on with the marina plans,” said CBCC President Sharon Coldren. “We had a round table discussion format and many people asked questions. David Silverman provided a lot of information about the Army Corps of Engineers process.”
Summers End Group (SEG) is proposing to construct a 145-slip mega-marina in Coral Bay harbor off shore of Island Blues as well as several restaurants, offices and parking lots in the Aqua Bistro area. The proposed development got the green light from local officials after sailing through a questionable St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee process late last year.
A group of Coral Bay residents and visitors opposed to the development formed the Save Coral Bay campaign to fight the marina. In just three months, the group has so far raised more than $89,000 and launched a several pronged legal attack.
As Save Coral Bay organizers wait to hear their case with the V.I. Board of Land Use Appeals, SEG must still obtain federal ACOE permits. ACOE officials kicked off the public comment period of the permitting process this month and Save Coral Bay and CBCC officials are urging residents to share their concerns with the federal agency.
“This is a process which coordinates information from EPA, NOAA, Fish and Wildlife Service, the Coast Guard and all the federal agencies involved,” said Coldren. “All of that information is coordinated through the ACOE so that it allows for a federal response that is logical in terms of protecting the public interest.”
ACOE officials will not know how the public feels about this project, unless people write in and share their concerns, Coldren explained.
“That is the bottom line here, the public interest,” she said. “What ACOE strives to do is look at the good and the bad points of a development application and weigh them and balance if its going to be in the public interest. People need to make their opinions known if they think Coral Bay will benefit in the long term by having this type of development.”
ACOE officials will look at all of the potential effects which the proposed development will have on the area, Coldren explained.
“Impacts range from the economy, the local history and culture to protecting the environment,” said the CBCC president. “All of those factors will be taken into account. Coral Bay and the Coral Harbor in particularly, is an important nursery habitat for all kinds of reef fish and its a shark pupping ground.”
“It really is a unique mangrove, seagrass and coral environment that is appreciated by lot of special types of marine creatures,” said Coldren.
More than 300 residents wrote to V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources ahead of the St. John CZM Committee meeting, yet those letters didn’t seem to make a difference. With the ACOE, however, letters against the marina could make a big difference, according to Coldren.
“One thing people continually ask is if it will matter if they write letters and the answer is yes, it will matter,” said Coldren. “ACOE needs to see a range of public opinion. According to a recent press release from ACOE denying a marina application in Florida, they clearly state the importance of the numerous letters and emails they received in opposition to the project as a reason they denied the application.”
“People think we are so small here that we won’t be heard, but Friends of V.I. National Park and the federal organization that represents National Parks sent out emails to all of their members about the ACOE comment period on the Coral Bay marina,” said Coldren.
CBCC worked with American Institute of Architect experts last year on a comprehensive plan for the future of Coral Bay through a public input process which drew numerous and diverse voices, Coldren explained.
“We heard through that process that people want small, entrepreneurial opportunities that provide the historic cultural tourism,” said the CBCC president. “We have a lot of avenues to do that as well as improve facilities in the bay. If the government is working with us instead of working, as the last government did, to promote a particular large development, we can do that.”
“Most people know that in May 2013, the Coral Bay boating community along with CBCC asked to be able to do a marine uses plan for Coral Bay and we were told flat out ‘No,’” said Coldren. “Hopefully the new administration will embrace and engage with the boating community to create a marine uses plan that works.”
Part of SEG’s local permit entails V.I. Legislative approval for developing on the submerged lands which are owned by the public. As part of that Land Trust Lease process, the Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning will analyze the proposal before introducing a bill before the full Legislature for vote.
Economic Committee Chairperson Senator Jeanette Millin-Young is planning a site visit to the proposed SEG marina location in Coral Bay this Tuesday, January 27, according to her staff secretary.
While the senator’s visit does not include meeting the public, Millin-Young will reportedly be meeting with SEG principles Rick Barksdale and Chalise Summers. The senator’s visit is scheduled for 10 a.m. January 27.
Letters to ACOE about SEG’s proposed marina should be emailed to Johann.M.Sasso@usace.army.mil with the subject line SAJ-12518 (SP-JMS) – Coral Bay Marina. For more information about ACOE letters, check out Save Coral Bay’s website at http://savecoralbay.com/army-corps-comments.