More than 20 years ago, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources (DPNR) designated 18 water-based environments throughout the territoryincluding Coral Bayas Areas of Particular Concern (APCs).
Despite two attempts, however, regulations have never been passed to control development in the APCs.
As the pace of development continues to surge across St. John, some residents are pushing for the DPNR to finally set regulations for the APCs.
No Management Plans Developed
Twenty years ago, the next step was to develop a plan, rules and regulations to ensure that the environment in each APC was protected, said Sharon Coldren, president of the Coral Bay Community Council (CBCC). Frankly, we need more robust efforts.
In 1993, and again in 2001, APC plans were drafted by DPNR officials and private consultants, but neither was accepted nor instituted.
There were attempts, off and on, to revitalize the development of management plans for the APCs throughout the 1990s, said Bill Rohring, DPNRs Coastal Zone Management (CZM) assistant director for the St. Thomas/St. John district. Around 1999, CZM contracted the University of the Virgin Islands (UVI) to develop three management plans for three APCs.
Claudette Young-Hinds was subcontracted by UVI to develop management plans for one APC on each island; the Christiansted waterfront on St. Croix, Coral Bay on St. John, and Benner Bay Mangrove Lagoon on St. Thomas.
Plans Rejected by NOAA
The plans, which were accepted by CZM, called for the creation of a separate entity within DPNR to handle the APCs. CZM officials forwarded the plans to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which is the federal agency that funds DPNR.
NOAA did not agree with the concept in the plan to develop and fund a separate and distinct agency to deal with the APCs, said Rohring. They did not agree with the management plans, so at that point we did some internal revaluation.
DPNR recently hired Susan Curtis as APC coordinator, to once again begin to develop regulations for the APCs.
Curtis is currently completing work on her masters degree in planning from the University of Arizona, and has worked with a planning board in one of the major cities in Arizona.
New APC Coordinator
She has the skills, knowledge and abilities to do a review of everything that has been done in the APCs, Rohring said. She will go forward with the development of management plans for the APCs, and when they are developed, adopted and accepted, CZM will go forward with rules and regulations.
CZM officials do not know which APC will be worked on first.
The first management plan will be the most difficult to create, said Rohring. As (Curtis) does her research, she will be putting together a matrix. We will look at that and see which areas might be the most critical, and then come up with a ranking system.
Curtis and other CZM officials will then develop management plans for the first one or two APCs, based on the ranking system.
Coldren thinks that Coral Bay should be at the top of the APC list.
Coral Bay would like to be one of the first APC models taken through the process, said Coldren. CBCC will do whatever we can to assist DPNR in this regard.
Coral Bay currently has the most open building permits, and, according to the 2005 Census, was the fastest-growing community in the territory.
It is critical to enact regulations now, because we are just on the cusp of development, Coldren said. If we dont do it for Coral Bay now, it may be too late, and we wont be able to start at the right point. We are the largest undeveloped APC in the territory, and, therefore, the most in need of avoiding damage to the environment.
CZM officials are hoping to have the first management plan completed within two years.
Once the plan is done, we will go out for the development of rules and regulations, which would be adopted by the CZM commissioner, said Rohring.
The public will be involved in this process.
CZM realizes that we need the publics participation, said Rohring. We cant do this in a vacuum or an ivory tower.
Other APCs on St. John are Chocolate Hole/Great Cruz Bay and Enighed Pond.