CBCC President Sharon Coldren, standing, led a discussion based on a report recently released by a team of AIA sustainable design experts at last week’s meeting.
The need for more self-governance on St. John and the importance of protecting the fragile eco-system of Coral Bay were two of the most important concepts taken from a recently released American Institute of Architects report, according to about 35 residents who attended a Coral Bay Community Council meeting last week.
CBCC President Sharon Coldren hosted a meeting at Guy Benjamin School on Wednesday evening, February 19, to discuss the final report from a group of architects who toured Coral Bay last spring as part of an AIA Communities By Design workshop.
A seven-member Sustainable Design Assessment Team (SDAT), which included architects, engineers, eco-tourism experts, a community development specialist and a marine scientist, spent three days touring Coral Bay and meeting with residents last May thanks to a competitive grant obtained by CBCC under its Coral Bay Watershed Management Project Phase II.
The AIA SDAT recently released its final 58-page report, which includes a Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats Analysis and outlines potential visions for the future of Coral Bay.
While not everyone at last week’s CBCC meeting had read the report — which is available on CBCC’s website at www.coralbaycommunitycouncil.org or at the group’s office — the residents who did read it agreed with the findings.
“I think the report reflected what we talked about last May,” said one East End resident. “The need for more self-government and having more autonomous control were the most important areas.”
The report, packed with recommendations for green infrastructure, ideas for creating open space and recreation and exciting experiential tourism opportunities, was somewhat overwhelming, according to some residents at last week’s meeting.
“There was so much to digest,” said Steve Hendren of Sunny Rock Construction. “The report is huge and it touches on a lot of different things. Some of the salient points include the appearance of Coral Bay, which still needs a lot of work.”
Following some of the SDAT’s recommendations could take decades, according to one Coral Bay resident.
“I agree the report was overwhelming; some of it sounds like it could take decades,” he said. “We can’t even clean our own culverts on Centerline Road. Maybe we should clean our house before we build a new one.”
While discussing the issues is great, nothing can really be done without the ability to make decisions locally, explained a Coral Bay resident at last week’s meeting.
“Self-governance is really important,” said the resident. “If we can’t make decisions nothing will get done the way we want it to. That’s the most important thing, self-governance.”
St. John used to be its own district and needs to be that again, according to Norm Gledhill.
“St. John can’t get anywhere because we don’t have any representation,” said Gledhill. “We used to be our own district with our own senator and we need that again. Until we can get our own district I don’t think we can move very far or very fast.”
The very real risk of destroying what brings people to the island — the natural environment — was the most important part of the SDAT report, according to Dr. Iris Kern.
“The most important part of the report for me was the emphasis on the fragility of the ecosystem and the need to be sensitive to the environment,” said Kern. “There is a very real danger of destroying the thing that brought us all here.”
Rick Barksdale and Chaliese Summers, the principles behind a construction company exploring the development of a marina in Coral Bay, attended last week’s CBCC meeting as well. Barksdale also worked along with the SDAT members throughout their workshop last May, he explained.
“I appreciate their effort and they offered some valuable ideas,” said Barksdale. “Some tremendous and extremely valuable work has been done.”
Several residents at the meeting pressed Barksdale for details of his marina planned for the Island Blues shoreline area of Coral Bay, which has already received $1 million in federal funding.
Barksdale, however, declined to share any information with interested Coral Bay residents.
“We are exploring the process of bringing a marina to St. John and we are working with the permitting authorities,” said Barksdale. “At the appropriate time, at their protocol, there will be ample time for public meetings and public comment.”
The developer — who has been photographed with high-ranking Virgin Islands officials including Governor John deJongh, who even mentioned a Coral Bay marina in his January 2014 State of the Territory Address — declined to comment on a potential start date for his planned marina.
“That is a great question,” Barksdale replied when asked the earliest date construction would begin on his planned marina. “I would like to know. It’s hard to say.”
While it remains unclear what the future of Coral Bay will bring, it will not remain the same, explained former Senator Almando “Rocky” Liburd.
“Coral Bay is not going to remain the same,” he said. “There are lots of young kids growing up here and they want opportunities. That’s society, people come in and people grow up and places change; that’s how it works.”
Many Coral Bay residents, however, would like to have a say in what that future looks like, according to several attendees at last week’s meeting. The group agreed to convene again next month, on Wednesday, March 19, at 6:30 p.m. at Guy Benjamin School, to work on writing a brief, one page Community Vision.
For more information about the SDAT report check out CBCC’s website at www.coralbaycommunitycouncil.org. or call (340) 776-2099.