The National Park Service presented its plans to repair the Visitors Center and marine facilities in Cruz Bay to the St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management in a public online meeting held by Thursday evening.
If the CZM approves the proposal, work at the Creek could begin as early as November and continue for a year, impacting recreational and commercial boaters, park staff, and visitors.
Project designers were quick to assure the online meeting-goers that they would work with contractors to minimize the time that facilities would be unavailable or restricted, but access to portions of the Creek under the jurisdiction of the Virgin Islands National Park could be cut off for up to four months.
During this time, boaters might have to use the area of the Creek that is under the jurisdiction of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, according to VINP Superintendent Nigel Fields.
The work planned for the marine facilities includes rebuilding the NPS pier – where the Park Service ties up its vessels, and charter boats pick up and drop off passengers – and repairing the surrounding bulkhead where boaters traditionally tie up their dinghies.
The pier is in “pretty severe condition,” according to Jeffrey Morgan, project manager for Croft and Associates, a design and engineering firm that worked with the Park Service on the plans. He said the new pier would be the same width as the old one but two feet shorter.
The work also includes dredging the sea bottom to a depth of eight feet. In some parts of the Creek, sediment from storm runoff and prop wash from larger vessels has resulted in water depths of about a foot, according to Amy Dempsey of Bioimpact, Inc, a company contracted by NPS to conduct environmental studies. The dredging will allow park vessels and other boats to move about safely.
Much of the work is intended to repair damage from hurricanes Irma and Maria which struck within a couple of weeks of each other in September 2017.
According to the proposal submitted by the Park Service to Coastal Zone Management, building and land site repairs include “landscaping, photovoltaic panel installation, mold mitigation, and repair or replacement of the following: roofs, electrical devices, light fixtures, air conditioning systems, domestic water piping, water heaters, pumps, windows, doors, walls, ceilings, interior finishes, exterior finishes, fire protection equipment, and flooring.”
The work is intended to make the building more resilient to future storms and sea-level rise.
“A new raised steel structure will be constructed on the northwest corner of the building to accommodate the new exterior air conditioning equipment above the Design Flood Elevation level for resiliency purposes,” the proposal states.
When the Visitors Center building is off-limits to the public during construction, VINP law enforcement rangers should still be able to use their offices, officials said.
The public will also still have access to bathrooms located in nearby separate buildings during the construction period.
The NPS is proposing to dredge approximately 2,000 cubic yards from the bottom of the Creek – known officially as Little Cruz Bay – and offload the dredged material to bins placed along the park bulkhead. These bins will be transported to an area just past the National Park boat ramp where the dredged material, also known as spoils, will be spread out to dry for several days.
Once the material is dried, it will be transported to St. Thomas and disposed of at the Bovoni Landfill.
STJ-CZM commissioner Rafe Boulon, who retired as chief of the Division of Resource Management at the VINP 12 years ago, said repairs to the marine facilities were long overdue.
Boulon asked if the dredged material contained toxic substances, and if so, would it be accepted for disposal at Bovoni. Dempsey said the material had been tested. Traces of arsenic, lead, and other materials were found, but were at acceptable levels.
The proposal for the work clearly states that the repairs to the marine facilities will result in muddy waters, but turbidity barriers will be installed, and a “Water Quality and Environmental Monitoring Plan will be implemented during all dredging and dewatering activities to ensure the control measures are functioning properly and are adequately maintained.”
The Creek has been bulkheaded and used for commercial purposes for 50 years. Although some marine species thrive there – including an invasive sea vine, micro algae, and upside-down jellyfish – the “low impact” nature of the project is not expected to result in significant degradation of marine habitats.
Dempsey said six small encrusting corals, Siderastrea sidereal, will have to be removed and cannot be transplanted.
“No endangered sea turtles or Nassau groupers were noted during the surveys,” according to the proposal submitted by the Park Service. “No Endangered Species Act listed corals or critical habitat occurs within the basin. Due to the limited resources within the basin, there should be a negligible impact on benthic resources,” the report stated.
Plans for the project must also be submitted to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
According to the public notice for the meeting held Thursday, the application documents are available for public review at the DPNR website. They are also available for review by appointment by calling the Division of CZM at 340-774-3320 to make an appointment to review them between 9 a.m.and 4 p.m., except for holidays, at the Charles Wesley Turnbull Regional Public Library, 4607 Tutu Park Mall, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.