Mixed Emotions at Coral Bay Marina CZM Hearing

The merits of a proposed 116-slip marina in Coral Bay should not be weighed without considering the social impacts of the project, St. John attorney Brion Morrisette told a St. John Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Committee public hearing on Thursday evening, July 13.

Morrisette, representing the native St. Johnian principals behind the development, emphasized the native ownership of the project during his presentation at the CZM public hearing regarding the proposed marina development at the Cruz Bay Legislature building.

Enormous Social Impact
“This is the first project of this magnitude undertaken by native St. Johnians,” Morrisette, a former CZM committee member himself, said. “The CZM review process requires a balance of many factors, not all economic. The social impact in this project is enormous.”

“To have a socially harmonious place, all segments of this community must be able to participate in the tourist-based economy,” he said.

The principals behind Coral Bay Marina LLC, are all native St. Johnians. Chairman of the V.I. Port Authority and former V.I. senator Robert O’Connor Jr., is the company’s managing partner. Eglah Marsh Clendinen and Minerva Marsh Vasquez are also principals in the company.

“I have known the applicants all of my life,” said Morrisette. “They all grew up here and they plan to stay here on St. John. Unlike many developers, these people are emotionally invested.”

“This is a model for development by locals,” he added.

Plans for the project include construction of a 116-slip marina, two two-story buildings, one three-story building, a reverse osmosis plant and wastewater treatment facility.

A laundromat, fuel storage, marine pump-out facility, office, retail and living space for employees are also included in the plans.

Historic Maritime Use
The proposed development is located on native-owned land, which has been historically used by mariners and is already zoned for a marina. Since the planned wastewater treatment facility, located across the street from the parcel zoned W-1, is not the primary use of the land, it is allowed under B-3 zoning, according to a legal opinion read at the meeting.

Displaying a petition in support of the development which he said was signed by 500 people, O’Connor said that many St. Johnians are behind the project.

Benefits Whole Island
“This project is supported by many indigenous people of these islands,” he said. “I’m looking for my rights as a St. Johnian to be able to do things. This project will benefit St. John as a whole.”

Coral Bay Marina first applied for a major CZM permit in December 2004. After revising the plans for almost two years, their application was deemed complete earlier this year.

The principals made significant changes to the development, including constructing piers farther seaward to avoid the need to dredge the bay, thus reducing impact to the seagrass beds in the area.

Springline Architects LLC designed the plans for the project and BioImpact conducted environmental assessments.

Most of the more than 75 people who packed the Cruz Bay Legislature building for the much-anticipated public hearing were in favor of the project, or at least a similar one.

“This project has the ability to stand on its own merit,” said Coral Bay resident Alvin Newton. “What bothers me most about this project is Bob O’Connor — he’s too honest for our community.”

“I’m in total support of this,” said resident Steve Black. “I applaud these pioneers to do what we should have had all these years. This is a great undertaking and I applaud the St. Johnians who are involved in this.”

“We are an island and it would be great to have a marina,” he added.

Compass Point Marina owner Trip Lea voiced his support of the project and said that marinas are great businesses for the Virgin Islands.

Great Business for Territory
“This is a great business for the territory,” he said. “Marinas build trade, services, and bring back the marine industry that we lost to the British Virgin Islands. We have a six and a half year waiting list and we could even expand that.”

Opponents, whom Morrisette termed “alarmists and extremists”, cited the marina site’s openness to the sea, inadequate depths and potential adverse environmental impacts.

Dave Conro, commodore of the Coral Bay Yacht Club, said that the majority of the group’s members are in favor of a marina, but not in this location.

“The bottom line is that we think there is a better location in Coral Harbor,” he said. “It appears that the depths are too shallow. Five to seven foot depths won’t accommodate most boats.”

Moored Boats Will Be Displaced
Many boats already moored in the area would be displaced, Conro added.

“This will displace an awful lot of boats with registered and authorized moorings,” he said. “Most of these boats won’t be able to get into this marina.”

Phil Stringer, a 20-year Coral Bay resident and mariner with more than 50 years of experience, said that the proposed location for the marina is wrong.

Location Called Too Exposed
“I do professional boat delivery and have been to marinas from Nova Scotia to Venezuela,” he said. “What concerns me is that this marina is in the most exposed location of any marina I’ve ever seen. It’s wide open to the Caribbean Sea.”

“My concern is to have a marina that will survive, not a Category 5 hurricane, but a Category 1,” Stringer said.

He would have questions about this project, no matter who was behind it, Stringer explained.

“My criticisms would come if locals or the Queen of England was behind this marina,” he said. “We must have a viable marina in Coral Bay. I’m not convinced that we have that here.”

Chris Clark agreed it shouldn’t matter who is behind the project.

Evaluate the Project, Not Developer
“My feeling is that it is CZM’s mandate to evaluate this project based on its own merits, whether it is being done by Mr. O’Connor or someone from Mars,” he said.

Clark, who called himself “extremely pro-marina,” was also not in favor of Coral Bay Marina’s proposed location.

“This marina as proposed is substandard for usage compared to other marinas,” he said. “A breakwater could be constructed for protection, but why bother when a marina could be constructed 100 yards across the bay in a protected location.”

“We should look at what could be the best possible marina,” he added.

Coral Bay Marina’s application is still missing necessary information, according to Barry Devine.

Application Lacks Information
“I’m in favor of a marina in Coral Bay,” he said. “But we need a well-planned, well-built, well-operated facility. CZM requires certain information be included in this application, but it’s still deficient in very significant ways.”

There is no marina business feasibility plan, no fuel spill contingency plan, no details regarding the reverse osmosis plant and there are still sediment run-off and drainage issues, according to Devine.

“These details should be part of the plan before it is approved,” he said. “This information is required and ought to be here.”

Settling the Issue
Beloved St. Johnian Guy Benjamin was the last person to share his views at the public hearing, and he took the opportunity to set some people straight.

“We are here to settle a question about the Coral Bay marina,” he said. “We have listened to everyone talk, and it’s good to talk. But, we are going to build a marina.”

Residents have until July 24 to submit written comments either supporting or objecting to the project to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. The St. John CZM Committee’s decision meeting regarding the development is scheduled for Wednesday, August 2, at the Cruz Bay Legislature building at 6 p.m.