Letter to the Editor:
The December 11 St. John Tradewinds story on the coastal zone permit recently approved for Reliance — the developer of the proposed affordable housing in Calabash Boom — shed important light on the CZM Committee’s actions. However, one correction needs to be made to your story: the proposed “reverse osmosis” (R/O or seawater desalination) facility was neither the sole concern of the Legislature, nor is it the chief environmental threat posed by the project.
Equally disturbing is Reliance’s plan to house hundreds of residents on an inadequate sized plot (6.5 usable acres) and spread treated sewage on a 2-acre area, a questionable size for that purpose. Ultimately, according to experts, this treated sewage — and the other pollution produced on the site, such as silt run-off — will wash directly across Rt. 107 and into Coral Bay, where it will have devastating impacts on the ecologically fragile Coral Bay.
This scenario is not farfetched. In fact, all of the regulatory agencies that specialize in ecological matters have warned of dire consequences should the proposed project go forward at the size that Reliance proposes.
The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service said “this location may not be the most suitable place for such a development. The project seems too large for the area…. We recommend that a CZM permit for this project … not be issued….”
The Virgin Islands Division of Fish & Wildlife predicted “substantial environmental impacts,” to the Bay, including what has been called a “triple whammy” — a “major threat” from the sewage, a potentially “significant decrease in water quality” because of silt runoff, and “significant negative impacts” from the desalination facility.
The National Marine Fisheries Service recommended “no [Army Corps of Engineers] permit for the [R/O] pipeline shall be issued.”
The concerns of these agencies continue to be the concerns of Friends of Coral Bay. We are perplexed that CZM Committee could issue a development permit when the CZM Act allows a permit to be issued only “where it will have no significant adverse effects, individually or collectively, on coastal zone resources.”
To the CZM committee’s credit, when approving the Calabash Permit they included a number of “special conditions,” which require Reliance to obtain additional permits from federal and territorial regulators before construction begins.
One of those conditions (actually mandated by the CZM Act itself) requires an Army Corps of Engineers permit for the proposed reverse osmosis pipeline. But despite reports that the developer intends to break ground shortly, the Army Corps has no active application from Reliance for this vital component of the project. In fact, the Army Corps deactivated the developer’s application 9 months ago, and Reliance has not yet re-applied for a permit.
The Friends of Coral Bay’s position regarding this project has been clear and consistent; we recognize the need, we support the location, but we have serious concerns about the size of the project relative to its environmental impact.
When you consider that this development, as proposed, could be home to hundreds of residents living in the same number of units (72) as Bellevue Village, but on approximately a third the acreage, when you think about its proximity to the already endangered bay and the fact that the site sits in a flood plain, it is undeniable that the stakes are high and that it is important we get it right. There are no do overs.
CZM and all of us will be held accountable by future generations. We need to be watchful.
Representatives of Friends of Coral Bay
Alan Smith, Attorney for Friends of Coral Bay