In the latest delay to Reliance Housing Foundation’s planned 72-unit moderate-income housing development in Calabash Boom, the Friends of Coral Bay filed an emergency motion for a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction on Monday, January 14, before District Court Judge Curtis Gomez.
Requesting the court to halt construction activities, the Friends allege that Reliance failed to obtain all necessary permits before commencing construction, which, according to the housing foundation’s legal representative, was set to get underway “imminently,” according to court documents.
The Friends, a non-profit group of residents primarily in the Calabash Boom area, have long opposed the scope of Reliance’s proposed development, contending runoff from the project would harm important sea grass beds, endangered coral reefs and nationally protected sea turtles.
Permit Granted December ‘06
Reliance first obtained a Coastal Zone Management major permit on December 8, 2006, to construct a $51 million moderate-income housing development consisting of 48 rental apartment units and 24 for-sale duplex town homes on about eight acres of land across Route 107 from Johnson Bay, not far from the beach.
Friends members originally took their concerns to local district court last January, when Judge Gomez issued a temporary restraining order on January 26, 2007.
The TRO eventually lapsed and in February 2007, the St. John CZM Committee voted to modify Reliance’s CZM permit to allow the developer to use existing wells for residents’ potable water instead of the originally proposed reverse osmosis facility.
Friends Bring BLUA Appeal
Shortly after the vote, the Friends, represented by Attorney Alan Smith and James Dougherty, appealed the CZM Committee’s decision to the Board of Land Use Appeals.
In July, BLUA heard the matter and, issuing their decision from the bench, upheld the St. John CZM Committee’s ruling. It would be another few months, however, before BLUA submitted their written decision and, in the meantime, the Calabash site sat idle.
Heavy rains in early October that year prompted Department of Planning and Natural Resources officials to issue an administrative order on October 26, 2007, requiring Reliance to complete mitigation measures at the site within a strict time frame or face steep penalties.
Since October, the developers have started renovation of the existing senior citizens’ center and installed an engineered channel and silt fencing on the site.
Inadequate Mitigation, Say Friends and Experts
Measures which, according to Friends members and several experts, inadequately address sedimentation issues.
“Reliance’s ‘engineered channel’ is really nothing more than a storm sewer that shunts all rain water runoff from the 32 acres of the Calabash Boom subwatershed directly into the bay, without filtration or detention,” according a letter from Dougherty to DPNR Commissioner Robert Mathes written on January 29. “Allowing this ‘channel’ to funnel runoff into the bay for decades will mean the demise of the ecology of Johnson Bay and will cause significant harm to the wildlife resources of the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument.”
UVI Chief Scientist Agreess
The Chief Scientist with the University of the Virgin Islands’ Conservation Data Center agreed with the lawyer’s assessment.
“The project will cause extensive damage to the reefs, water quality, wildlife and ecology of Coral Bay,” according to the legal declaration of Barry Devine, the chief scientist at the University of the Virgin Islands’ Conservation Data Center.
“The project will create large amounts of water pollution falling into three main categories — brine pollution, sediment pollution and sewage pollution — and the system that Reliance has proposed for treating these pollution streams will not succeed in protecting Coral Bay to any significant extent,” according to Devine’s declaration.
Permits Not All In Order
Part of Reliance’s CZM major permit requires the developer to obtain all federal and territorial permits, including Clean Water Act permits, before starting construction, which they have yet to do, according to plantiff’s filing.
While DPNR Spokesperson Jamal Nielson was quoted on an online news forum saying that Reliance had in fact obtained all their required permits, such is not the case, according to Dougherty.
“Reliance needs a number of permits before beginning construction but has obtained only one,” according to the letter Dougherty to Mathes. “Currently pending before you are Reliance’s applications for TPDES discharge permits for post-construction runoff and discharges of sewage effluent.”
While such permits remain pending, Reliance officials planned to commence construction “imminently,” according to legal counsel Dougherty.
“On January 8, 2008, I participated telephonically in a status conference before Magistrate Judge Bernard,” according Dougherty’s declaration. “Also participating were defendants’ Attorney Treston Moore, defendants’ attorney Leigh Fletcher and plaintiffs’ Attorney Alan Smith. During the course of the status conference Attorney Moore stated that construction of the proposed housing project was to resume imminently.”
“Consider This Your Notice”
“When plaintiffs’ counsel asked for 48 hours or more notice, Attorney Moore responded that ‘you should consider this your notice,’ or words to the identical effect,” the declaration continued.
Four days later, Dougherty filed the motion.
While Reliance officials complied with DPNR’s October 2007 administrative order, department officials declined comment on the case.
“I will reserve comments until we get a chance to speak to the Attorney General’s office,” said Nielson. “It is now in the hands of the courts and I must reserve comment.”
It remained unclear when the court would decide on the matter and in the meantime, developers continued mitigation work at the site.