Coral Bay Residents Form Coalition in Opposition To Proposed Reverse 0smosis Plant in Fortsberg

The map above, from WAPA’s Environmental Assess-ment Report, shows the proposed locations of the reverse osmosis plant, submarine  lines and water storage tank.

As protesters in Cruz Bay called for an end to rising Water and Power Authority Rates last week, about 50 residents in Coral Bay have been quietly fighting the public utility on an entirely different front (see related story).

Residents in the Coral Bay area first learned of WAPA’s plan to construct a reverse osmosis plant in the Fortsberg area — with intake and outflow pipes laid in Coral Bay Harbor and a pipeline buried across the bay to the new Calabash Boom housing community —  at a May 16 public meeting with Springline Architect’s Tracy Roberts.

While Roberts presented WAPA’s preliminary plans at that meeting, residents had many more questions which were left unanswered. Despite a lack of additional public meetings to share information, WAPA and Springline have been moving full steam ahead to bring an RO plant to Coral Bay.

WAPA’s plan to bring potable water to the Coral Bay area includes construction of an RO plant capable of producing 50,000 gallons of waters daily at first, constructing seawater intake and discharge lines, a pump system and pump station and an ultimately 500,000 gallon water storage tank on Parcel 6-4 Estate Carolina.

The plan also calls for laying a submarine distribution line from the Fortsberg RO plant across the bay to the Calabash Boom housing area and burying a second water transmission line under the public road from Fortsberg up to the water storage tank at 6-4 Carolina.

The EAR cites a 20 year “Water Distribution Master Plan” for St. John to explain the need for the facility in the Coral Bay area; except that plan was developed in 1983 and has been out of date for eight years.

The Reverse Osmosis Facility is to be located at Latitude N18 20.442’ and Longitude W64 42.468’. The landing site within Johnston Bay is Estate Calabash Boom, Lampricht Koning which is located at Latitude N18 19.862’ and Longitude W64 42.372.’

The project would be paid for by U.S. Department of Interior Water Drinking Grant funds, some of which WAPA has already obtained. WAPA was granted $800,000 under the federal program for 2010 and the utility can request additional funds from the program for up to seven years, according to officials.

WAPA’s Environmental Assessment Report for the RO plant breaks the plan down into five land components, one water component and two separate phases.

The first land component is the construction of the RO plant and related construction of intake and discharge lines, including pumps and a generator, according to the EAR.

The second land component is the burial of the water transmission line and basic grading and storm water design of the estate road at Fortsberg. The third land component is the burial of the water transmission line and distribution line under the public road and providing fire hydrants along the main road with a connection to the Coral Bay fire station and the Guy Benjamin School, according to the report.

Component four is the construction of a 200,000 gallon water storage tank and stand pipe facilities; and land component five is the burial of a water transmission line from Johnson Bay to a valve box connection which will service the Calabash Boom housing complex, according to the EAR.

The lone water component of the project is defined in the EAR as laying a submarine line from the RO plant to Johnson Bay on the other side of the harbor.  The project is also broken down into two phases, according to the EAR.

“Phase one is for a 50,000 gallons per day plant and a 200,000 gallon storage tank,” according to the EAR. “Phase Two, increase the plant by an additional 50,000 gallons per day for a final capacity plant of 100,000 gallons per day. Increase the storage tank to a final capacity of 500,000 gallons.”

“It is expected that phase 2 will be completed within five years of the project start,” according to the EAR. “At that time an expansion of the distribution service on both sides of Coral Bay will be considered. It is also the intention of WAPA to expand the water service on Route 107. This will require the location of an additional water tank. This will allow for distribution lines along Route 107.”

In response to WAPA’s EAR submittal and continued dialogue with DPNR, a group of about 50 Coral Bay residents quickly formed a coalition calling for WAPA to answer a number of questions and to share information with the community.

“A coalition has quickly formed to protest this plan which will not serve the community and will lead to the destruction of the bay,” said Bruce Schoonover, a member of the Coral Bay Coalition. “To me, it is unfathomable that a plant of this size, proposed for the Fortsberg area, could be feasible when a plant — orders of magnitude smaller — was deemed by both VI and federal environmental agencies to be detrimental to the well being of Coral Bay.”

The group sent a letter to DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes and DPNR Coastal and Comprehensive Zone Planning Director Stuart Smith listing a number of questions and concerns with WAPA’s RO plant EAR and urging the utility to meet with the community.

“This letter, introducing the broad deficiencies of the proposed RO plan is being sent to you by a coalition of residents with the hope that proper planning and community engagement in this important infrastructure need will be employed to assure that the resulting solution meets the needs of the community in an environmentally responsible manner,” according to the group’s letter.

An RO plant in Coral Bay would be nothing short of a catastrophe for the bay and the current plan was developed without community input, according to the Coral Bay Coalition.

“On the surface and without the need to dwell deeply on WAPA’s EAR, the WAPA RO plan appears to be an environmental catastrophe for the bay,” according to the coalition’s letter. “Largely our frustration is the direct result of a plan that appears to ignore what has been learned from our recent past, one that is devoid of community input and that fails to assess and/or address the needs of the community, as a whole.”

WAPA has not done the research to determine the present and future water needs of Coral Bay, according to the coalition opposing the RO plant.

“The present plan lacks substance and credibility since no solid needs assessment has been completed for Coral Bay residents, only vague statements of water use and the future,” the group wrote. “Without a statistically rigorous survey and true understanding of present and future water needs…and without the full engagement of the residents this present proposal will not benefit the residents, only provide hollow promises at unknown costs.”

The coalition contends that the high salinity brine discharge from the RO plant would be a “time bomb” for Coral Bay, undoing years of recent work to improve storm water runoff in the watershed, according to the group’s letter to DPNR officials.

The coalition’s letter also lists a number of zoning issues — the group contends that locations of the RO plant and the storage tank are both not zoned for the proposed uses — the proposed RO site’s steep grade, discrepancies over brine discharge amounts and the affect on the bay and questions most of the scientific studies cited in WAPA’s EAR report.

While the group purports to support well planned infrastructure improvements, its contends that WAPA’s RO plant plan does not fall into that category.

“In short, we support all well planned infrastructure improvements that meet the needs of the community in an environmentally responsible manner,” according to the coalition’s letter. “It is abundantly clear that the WAPA RO plan falls well short of meeting these criteria.”

Coral Bay Community Council also wrote a letter to WAPA Executive Director Hugo Hodge raising a number of concerns with the RO plan and calling for community engagement.

“We continue to have questions and concerns that need to be addressed before the DPNR permitting and EPA process go further,” according to CBCC’s letter.

The group requested a public meeting with WAPA officials to discuss the plan and the next step in the proposal’s evaluation process.

“The CBCC Board strongly recommends that prior to proceeding further and investing more scarce resources in the territorial and federal permitting process, WAPA hold a meeting in Coral Bay to explain the planning rationale and address the full set of issues,” CBCC president Sharon Coldren wrote.

St. John Administrator Leona Smith had initially set up a meeting for this week, but that date was scrapped due to scheduling conflicts. A new public meeting date for WAPA and the Coral Bay community had not been scheduled as of press time.

While WAPA submitted its EAR and answered DPNR’s list of deficiencies, the utility has a long road to go — Division of Fish and Wildlife, Army  Corps of Engineers and EPA are just of a few of the agencies who will have a say in the project — before it can even hope to be granted a permit for the RO plant.

For more information on WAPA’s Fortsberg RO plant, check out the link on CBCC’s website at