Op-Ed: The Summers End Group – One Year Later

Sailboats dot Coral Bay Harbor on St. John. (Source photo by Amy Roberts)

One year ago – on Dec. 15, 2020 – seven Senators of the 33rd Legislature voted to approve a CZM permit and Trust Land occupancy agreement for the Summers End Group to construct a 145-slip mega yacht marina covering 30 acres of Coral Bay Harbor.

The Legislature acted after receiving testimony from Ms. Chaliese Summers, principal of Summers End, and from attorneys representing Summers End, who all testified that the approval of the CZM permit and trust land agreement was the last remaining obstacle to Summers End receiving a construction permit from the United States Army Corps of Engineers. This testimony was provided at a July 2020 meeting of the Committee of the Whole. Attorney David Cattie, representing Summers End Group, submitted written testimony stating, “if this Legislature votes positively on the CZM Permit and the Submerged Land Lease as proposed, the US Army Corps of Engineers permit will soon follow.”

Also testifying at that Committee of the Whole were individuals and local property owners opposed to the construction of this marina, located on the most weather-exposed shoreline of Coral Bay, situated atop of lush seagrass meadows providing critical habitat for fish, shellfish, and endangered sea turtles.

Now that a full year has elapsed since Gov. Albert Bryan Jr. signed the Summers End permit and the Legislature ratified it, it is appropriate to ask what has happened in the year since our elected representatives in the V.I. government approved this ill-conceived project. Here are some relevant developments:

An early 18th century, well-preserved shipwreck was discovered, documented, and notified to the Army Corps. In March 2021, the Corps initiated a formal “Section 106” assessment under the National Historic Preservation Act to determine how this significant site would be impacted by marina construction and operation. Incidentally, the V.I. Legislature had been apprised of this discovery months before their approval of the Summers End permit, but they apparently chose to ignore it.

In March 2021, the Corps initiated formal environmental consultation with NOAA under Section 6 of the Endangered Species Act and under the Magnuson-Stevens Fisheries Act to assess impacts on endangered corals, sea turtles, and critical habitats.

In August 2021, after reviewing the information and studies submitted by Summers End Group, the consulting NOAA agencies deemed the information provided to be inadequate to complete their assessment and requested substantial additional information from the Corps and from Summers End.

In October 2021, after not receiving any response from Summers End, the NOAA agencies closed the formal consultations due to non-response to their information requests.
In September 2021, the Army Corps sent a detailed letter to Ms. Chaliese Summers identifying multiple errors, deficiencies, and non-responses by the Summers End Group to information requests from the Corps and other agencies.

In October 2021, the Summers End Group revealed, in a filing in U.S. Federal District Court, that “employee salaries” for the Summers End Group had added up to $1.2 million during the period from mid-2017 through 2020, amounting to $360,000 per year in salaries paid to the Summers End Group “employees.” To the best of my knowledge, the only employees of Summers End Group are Ms. Chaliese Summers and Mr. Rick Barksdale.

In the same October 2021 federal court filing, Summers End stated that their “Operating Expenses” – not including legal fees, professional fees, or loan interest – were $1.1 million during the period from mid-2017 through 2020. How does a “business” with no income-earning operations spend over one million dollars on operating expenses?

Why is all of this relevant? Because the Legislature relied on the incorrect and misleading testimony of Chaliese Summers and her paid advisors, claiming that the Legislature needed to approve the CZM permit in order for the Army Corps permit to be issued when Summers End either knew or should have known that this was entirely incorrect. In July 2020, the Army Corps was nowhere near approval of a permit for Summers End, and a year and a half later, they are even farther from that point.

And in the year since the Legislature’s approval, the damage being done in Coral Bay by the Summers End project continues to add up.

The wreckage of the Shoreline Inn and Island Blues, destroyed by Hurricane Irma in 2017, remains a horrendous eyesore directly on the main road through Coral Bay. For tourists and residents, this is a painful and potentially dangerous reminder of the ravages experienced in 2017. Located on property leased by the Summers End Group, why has the wreckage been allowed to remain for all of these years? When will it be cleared? Ms. Summers testified to the Legislature that it would be cleared as soon as the Legislature approved her permit. We are waiting.

The local families who leased their property to Summers End Group over seven years ago have not received any meaningful compensation for their valuable property. They are unable to sell or lease it to any other party due to a one-sided contract signed by elderly and infirm family members without independent legal representation. While the principals of the Summers End Group have been paying themselves handsome salaries, elderly St Johnian property owners have literally passed away waiting to be paid. This, in my opinion, is not only unethical, it is immoral and possibly illegal. We cannot ever turn our heads from elder abuse.

Real business owners with real capital want to develop small, sustainable businesses in Coral Bay, but this cannot be done while a 20-year non-performing lease, approved by the V.I. Legislature, hangs like a dark cloud over Coral Bay. Job creation is stifled. Shoreline amenities are blocked. All because seven Senators, in a lame-duck session of the 33rd Legislature, refused to listen to the truth and instead acted on the misleading and inaccurate testimony of the Summers End Group.

The Trust Land agreement approved by the Legislature requires a payment of $64,000 to be made by Summers End on the “effective date” of the agreement – which is the date it was ratified by the Legislature and delivered to Summers End, one year ago. The second payment is due this month. As of October 2021, according to our DPNR commissioner, Summers End had not paid anything, putting them one year in arrears on their financial obligations to the V.I. Government.

On Dec. 1, 2021, I wrote a letter to Gov. Bryan and Senate President Donna Frett-Gregory and copied it to all of the senators of the 34th Legislature and to DPNR Commissioner J.P. Oriol outlining, in detail, all of these issues and concerns relating to the permits approved for the Summers End Group. A copy of this letter is available online here – https://SaveCoralBay.com/Nov2021-Letter.

On that same day, I submitted a petition to the United States Army Corps of Engineers with the names of over 13,000 individuals – Virgin Islands residents, St Johnians, visitors, property owners, and people with an interest in protecting irreplaceable natural resources – urging the Corps to deny the permit requested by the Summers End Group. Included in these 13,000 names were over 2,000 individuals who stated their residence as the USVI. That petition is also available online – https://SaveCoralBay.com/2021petition.

Where do we go from here? Coral Bay has been put in this untenable situation by Gov. Bryan and the Virgin Islands Legislature. It is up to them to figure a way out. The trust land agreement was approved under false pretenses. It is time to end the charade and move forward in ways that benefit all of us.

— David Silverman is the president of Save Coral Bay Inc.