CORAL BAY — The Committee on Economic Development Agriculture and Planning went on an on-site visit on St. John, Tuesday, in preparation for an upcoming lease agreement and permit request regarding the proposed Summer’s End Marina that will be located in Coral Bay Harbor on St. John.
Committee Chair Sen. Janette Millin Young said that her office coordinated the site visit as part of the senate fact finding mission.
“I strongly believe that it is important for senators of both districts to get a first-hand perspective of issues that may possibly be up for a vote by all senators,” Millin Young said, “I will ensure that we continue this type of due diligence for other similarly sized and impacting developments in both districts.”
“It is a good fact-finding mission because senators had an opportunity to touch, see and feel the areas of the development,” Sen. Clifford Graham. “As a result of this trip, I have first-hand knowledge of the site boundaries and I can now visualize the impact that it will have on the community.”
Similarly, Sen. Myron Jackson said, “This trip has been successful in providing the perspective of the plan presented by the development and the footprint of the area. I understand the key components which includes environmental, social and the economic factors that play a role in bringing this plan into fruition.”
The Project to Restore Coral Bay by building the Summer End Marina describes the benefits once the project is approved by lawmakers. Rick Barksdale gave the presentation. Barksdale stated that the St. John Marina can be successful by following their sustainable developed plan that will have positive impacts on the environment, social/cultural components and the local economy.
The environmental aspect focuses on removing derelict boats, cleaning the sea bottom, waste water pump out, EPA approved fueling and a comprehensive management plan to help bring boats into compliance with the Division of Planning and Natural Resources. Currently, there are illegal boating activities including waste discharge from residential boaters into the bay.
The social and cultural component aims towards increasing a higher standard of living and career opportunities. According to Barksdale, there will be a mentorship, internship and scholarship opportunities. The programs will extend to the Department of Education by lending support for a new school for St. John for grades K-12. Building the marina will include a Fish and Farmers Market, and it will help stop the youth flight and brain drain that is facing the community today.
Barksdale stated that the current social condition is that there is genocide of generational St. John families via economic strangulation. As a result of this, St. Johnians have a divided cultural mentality and there is a high unemployment rate, especially for youths.
The economic aspect focuses on creating new jobs through direct and indirect employment and restoring hope by balancing social equity. One of the major priorities is to hire St. John residents for as many of the 90+ jobs created by the project as possible.
Barksdale stated that the economic challenges include constant opposition from some residents which include death threatening graffiti, cyber bullying and name calling. This type of negative reaction is not hindering the Coral Bay Project from moving forward but it is fostering distrust among members in the community towards the opposition.
Sen. Terrence “Positive” Nelson said, “The Coral Bay project is interesting and it has potential. However, during my conversation with the locals, I learned that they are not sure how beneficial it will actually be to their community.”
Sen. Tregenza Roach said, “Although, the presentation was very informative, I would like to hear from the opposition. I think that it was important as policymakers to physically inspect the site. We will hear from both sides in the upcoming committee meeting.”
Robert O’Connor, Jr., a former U.S.V.I. senator and current chairman of the U.S.V.I. Port Authority, is also a partner in the St. John Marina project and a driving force in seeing that generational St. Johnians stop suffering from what he refers to as “economic genocide.” In his remarks to the senators, O’Connor emphasized how the sustainability developed St. John Marina will protect the environment while providing much needed jobs and economic vitality to St. John, particularly Coral Bay.
The Committee on Economic Development, Agriculture and Planning will schedule the hearing to be held at the Legislature of the Virgin Islands in the near future.