St. John CZM Committee Upholds RHF’s Cease and Desist Order

No activity is allowed at Reliance’s Calabash Boom site, above.

Despite being issued a submerged lands lease by the V.I. Senate in December 2006, Re-liance Housing Foundation officials are no longer planning to construct a reverse osmosis plant at the site, eliminating the need for a water permit. Future residents’ water needs will now be met with rain catchments and existing wells.

After a closed-door executive session, the St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee upheld the cease and desist order it issued to Reliance earlier this month.

The committee, which met on Friday, January 26, at the Cruz Bay Legislature building, voted unanimously to uphold the cease and desist order until Reliance  officials submit and get approval of a modification request for the removal of the water portion of their original CZM permit.

R/O Plans Nixed
The developer is also required to submit an updated Environmental Assessment Report to address the altered plans.
Reliance officials must maintain and monitor the existing silt fences at the site and report to CZM — which is the only activity allowed at the site until the cease and desist order is lifted.

CZM staff and Reliance representatives will meet on Wednesday, January 31, to discuss the developer’s modification re-quest, according to  CZM director Victor Somme.

Reliance, which is also the developer behind Bellevue Vill-age on Gift Hill, was granted its major CZM permit in December 2005, to construct a $24.8 million, 72-unit affordable housing community in Estate Calabash Boom.

Illegal Construction
The affordable housing developer was issued  the cease and desist order on Wednesday, Jan-uary 17 for illegally beginning construction at the Calabash Boom site before complying with a number of special conditions which were included in their permit.

Reliance was required to obtain air and water quality permits, as well as submit a Spill Contingency Control Plan prior to commencing construction. The original CZM permit also stipulated that the developer obtain all necessary territorial and federal permits for the then-planned reverse osmosis plant.

The cease and desist order was issued by CZM after neighbors in the area reported construction activity including vegetation removal by heavy equipment.

Maintaining Road
The developers were not starting construction but were grading and cutting their uphill neighbors’ legal access road, explained Reliance’s attorney Treston Moore at the January 26 CZM hearing.

Neighbors who live above the almost eight-acre site have used an illegal road to access their properties for years, which has caused sedimentation and erosion problems, Moore explained.

“Our intention was just to address the erosion and sediment issues,” said Moore about Reliance’s construction activity. “Our purpose was to abate runoff from our up-hill neighbors. We didn’t sue them — we thought we’d just help them.”

Although deemed illegal by Moore, the road in question — which runs past the Calabash Boom senior citizen’s center — was last maintained by the Department of Public Works, according to neighbors in the area.

Instead of that road, residents who live above the site should be using the road which runs north of the cemetery, explained Moore.

No “Evil Mind”
“When we started mitigation work, it was not with some kind of evil mind, but to fix what was there,” said Moore.

Reliance officials plan to eventually install catchment basins, railings and pave the legal access road, Moore added.
Since the project is being funded by the sale of about $37 million worth of tax breaks, there are tight financial constraints in order to turn a profit, Moore explained.

“We’re aware that this whole project is a ‘time of the essence’ project,” said Moore. “While we’re shut down, we’re losing $1.68 million a month in delay costs.”

The St. John CZM Committee wants to ensure that things are done properly at the Calabash Boom site from step one, explained committee chairperson Julien Harley.

Do Things the Right Way
“We don’t want anything damaged,” Harley said. “I have seen the kind of work you do, but we need things to be done the right way from the beginning. We aren’t out there to stop a developer, but to make sure he develops in a prudent and environmentally-sound manner.”

“We realize time is money and we are willing to work with you as long as you work with us,” added Harley.
While Reliance president Robert Jackson declined to comment on the committee’s action, Moore was pleased.

Developer Pleased
“I am very pleased with the committee’s decision,” said the attorney. “It was a very fair and honest decision. There were misunderstandings on both sides and we are looking forward to working with the committee and staff to bring this development to the people of St. John.”

Reliance officials are also facing a temporary restraining order suit brought by a group called “Friends of Coral Bay.”
On Friday, January 19, Chief District Court Judge Curtis Gomez heard arguments regarding the restraining order, but has yet to  issue a ruling.