Coral Bay activists are wary of declaring success in their battle against the proposed mega-yacht marina development that would have drastically changed the isolated community.
CORAL BAY — After orchestrating a well-organized and multi-faceted campaign opposing Summer’s End Group’s planned mega marina in Coral Bay harbor, Save Coral Bay activists are cautiously optimistic, but haven’t yet declared victory.
“We have a lot of motivation to celebrate, but we don’t want to prematurely pop the champagne,” said community activist David Silverman, one of the main Save Coral Bay organizers. “We are waiting to hear from the Army Corps of Engineers and we would hope that at some point we’ll get some clarity so we can move on and do other good things for Coral Bay.”
The group opposing Summer’s End Group’s plans to construct a 145-slip mega-marina in Coral Bay was formed in October 2014 after the developer’s application sailed through the territory’s local permitting process. Save Coral Bay officials attracted expert environmental lawyers and raised almost $100,000 to fight the marina.
The group filed an appeal of Summer’s End Group’s St. John Coastal Zone Management permit with the Board of Land Use Appeals in November.
Once Summer’s End Group’s principles Chalice Summers and Rick Barksdale applied for their required Army Corps of Engineers permit, Save Coral Bay officials were ready with several hundred pages of comments and expert opinions opposing the project, which was filed during the public comment period.
After launching a successful social media campaign, more than 1,000 individuals also joined the chorus of letters opposing the marina. ACOE’s public comment period — which also attracted letters from the Environmental Protection Agency and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration against the marina — ended on March 5.
Since then, Summer’s End Group also lost a federal Fish and Wildlife Service grant, Silverman explained.
“In the middle of March, the Fish and Wildlife Service, which had awarded a boating infrastructure grant through Department of Planning and Natural Resources to Summer’s End Group, were urged by many members of the community to review the conditions of that grant, one of which was that no significant environmental impacts could occur,” said Silverman. “After taking a look at the potential impacts of the marina, they decided they would withdraw from the grant. Fish and Wildlife Service officials said they reviewed the grant application and that it would be ineligible for the funds.”
While Fish and Wildlife Service officials have not released any funds to Summer’s End Group at this point, the agency is currently considering reimbursement of soft costs to the tune of about 18-cents to the dollar, according to Silverman.
“Fish and Wildlife gave Summer’s End Group until June 1 to submit any request for reimbursement they might have,” he said. “Officials said they would consider those requests under the terms of the grant which of which the federal share was about 48 percent which works out to about 18-cents on the dollar.”
Summer’s End Group officials have submitted reimbursement requests for soft costs including engineering and permitting expenditures, Silverman added.
“Fish and Wildlife officials are reviewing the request and if they find Summer’s End Group eligible they will return 18-cents on the dollar and that would happen probably by the end of August,” said Silverman.
Since Summer’s End Group was initially granted the boating infrastructure grant by Fish and Wildlife Service, ACOE deemed that agency was determined to be the lead on the project. Now that the grant has been withdrawn, ACOE has become the lead agency and has determined that Summer’s End Group’s application is not yet complete, according to Silverman.
“If there is an agency who is providing funding for a project they become the lead agency for the ACOE permit and National Environmental Protection Act review,” said Silverman. “Fish and Wildlife was the lead agency but since they have withdrawn participation from the project, the lead agency status returned to ACOE.”
“Now ACOE has looked at the permit application from the perspective of the lead agency and they’ve told Summer’s End Group that additional information needs to be provided for their application to be completed,” Silverman said. “Summer’s End Group has to provide additional information to ACOE if they want to continue pursuing their permit.”
There is currently no deadline for Summer’s End Group principles to submit the additional information requested by ACOE, but the permit will not languish forever, Silverman added.
“There is no deadline at this point but ACOE expects Summer’s End Group to respond in fairly short order,” he said. “At some point the may provide a deadline and if that isn’t met the application would be abandoned.”
At this point, Save Coral Bay activists are keeping in contact with ACOE officials and waiting to hear about their appeal with BLUA as they remain cautiously optimistic about the fate of Coral Bay harbor.
“We’re staying in touch with the agencies and we’re making sure that our contingencies are in place if we have to argue a case with BLUA of if there are any additional comment periods from ACOE or public hearings,” said Silverman. “We are staying on top of it, but as far as I know there have been no developments.”
At least of the properties which was associated with the land-based portion of Summer’s End Group’s marina development, the Voyages building, is back on the market, Silverman added.
“Since the Voyages building, which is owned by Merchant’s Bank, is back on the MLS that leads me to believe that some land owners are considering that this project might not be going ahead,” Silverman said.
Save Coral Bay volunteers continue raising funds through the group’s www.GoFundMe.com/SaveCoralBay. For more information about Save Coral Bay, check out the group’s website at http://savecoralbay.com.