Valid Disputes, Not Friends, Stopped Calabash Project

Letter to the Editor,

Tuesday evening, June 5, I was given a petition of support for the Calabash Boom Affordable housing development. Although I recognize the need for and fully support the development and construction of affordable housing on St. John. I did not sign the petition. I did not sign the petition because it states that Friends of Coral Bay, my client, is responsible for “stopping” the project. This is an unfair and unwarranted characterization of the circumstances surrounding the development.

The project was stopped because there is a valid and ongoing dispute concerning compliance with applicable Virgin Islands and federal laws. It is true that Friends of Coral Bay have a case pending in District Court and have appealed the decision of the St. John CZM Committee modifying the CZM permit, with the Board of Land Use Appeal. However, it is also true that Friends recently joined Reliance in its request to have the pending Board of Land Use appeal expedited, and the District Court has not yet ruled on the case.

As Friends has said from the outset, we very much appreciate the need for affordable housing on St. John, and do not oppose affordable housing in Cala-bash Boom. However, it must be remebered that the current appeal has been made necessary by the improper actions of Reliance, which began construction without obtaining the required permits.

Indeed, it was not until January 12th of this year, one day after Friends of Coral Bay filed for a temporary restraining order in the federal District Court, that Reliance proposed to DPNR an alternative source for its potable water, in an apparent attempt to overcome the fact that it had failed to apply for and receive an Army Corps of Engineers Permit which would have allowed Reliance to construct intake and discharge lines in  Coral Bay and Johnson Bay in conncection with the then proped reverse osmosis plant.

Friends has spelled out in great detail to the court and in its appeal to the land use board that there are serious deficiencies and serious questions that have not been asked or answered. This is the very essence of an improper permit proceeding and will, unless corrected by the board of appeal, risk irreversible damage to the fragile environment in Coral Bay.

As we previously stated, CZM Act exists to proctect the environment. While the Act encourages development, it demands that all development, regardless of type, (1) have no significant adverse effects on the coastal resources, and (2) incorporate, to the maximum extent feasible, mitigation measures to substantially lessen or eliminate any and all adverse environmental impacts. The Act aslo specifically provides that if these standards are not met, “the permit application shall be denied.” Friends do not take its actions lightly. Nor is it unmindful of the implications of those actions. However, the Virgin Islands legislature has, in its wisdom, determined that our environment and coastal resources must be preserved for the benefit of present and future generations. We cannot give in to expediency. Even a desirable development cannot be allowed to be done poorly.

In summary, Friends is a firm supporter of well-planned affordable housing on St. John, including such housing for the Coral Bay community, but it believes that the people of St. John are entitled to have such housing, like all construction, based upon proper environmental review and careful balancing of the need for affordable housing and adverse impacts on the environment, so that the very people such housing is intended to benefit are not forced to reside in a development where they must join their neighbors in watching the beauty of their neighborhood eroded by the effect of a series of bad decisions.

Respectfully submitted,
Alan D. Smith

Attorney for Friends of Coral Bay