Work Stops on Pond Bay Club Due to Financial Issues

While the hammers have stopped pounding at Pond Bay Club’s Estate Chocolate Hole construction site, the project is only being delayed, not shut down, according to developers behind the luxury fractional ownership resort.

“Effectively, what we’ve got is that we’ve got a German bank handling our financing and the bank has been restructured,” said Bob Emmett, a principal of First American Development Group/Carib, the developers behind the project. “They have a new team which has little hospitality experience and it’s taking too long for them to get their heads around this.”
The project, however, is in no danger of being shut down, Emmett added.

“Our fundamentals are very strong and we’re hoping to resume work at the site soon,” Emmett said. “We’re moving ahead with the bank, but we’re in flux in the meantime as they get new management going and decide within how they’re going to handle our project.”

Citing the still uncertain world economic outlook, Emmett declined to predict a date when work would resume at the almost 15-acre construction site.

“In today’s world, there are no certainties and this is a day-to-day issue right now as to where we are,” said Emmett. “There are a lot of moving pieces to the puzzle. This will inevitably push back our opening date a bit, but it’s not a fundamental issue.”

While Pond Bay Club’s German bankers get their ducks in a row, local officials have been finalizing a cobble and coral clearing study on Chocolate Hole beach.

Last Spring St. John Coastal Zone Management Committee members approved a hand-clearing pilot study of Pond Bay Club’s shoreline, the details of which Department of Planning and Natural Resources officials recently completed.

Pond Bay Club officials already hand-cleared a 75-foot section of the beach, and a second 25-foot section is slated for clearing when work at the site resumes. After that area is cleared, a nine month monitoring program will commence, according to St. John CZM Committee member Gerry Hills.

“This monitoring was the decision of DPNR’s Division of Fish and Wildlife and CZM staff jointly,” said Hills. “A resource ecologist will be coming out once a month to check water quality and erosion and see what is coming up on the beach.”

Hills didn’t foresee any objections to the planned beach monitoring study.

“It’s a great idea, having the study last nine months,” he said. “I can’t imagine anyone objecting to this because it will be a study that shows once and for all what the effects of the beach clearing with be.”

As details of Pond Bay Club’s shoreline monitoring program have been hammered out, a water source for the project is still being determined. The original Environmental Assessment Report in the developer’s original permit application proposed a reverse osmosis facility at the site.

The developers removed that request and instead worked out a deal with the V.I. Water and Power Authority to extend their water distribution to the resort.  WAPA, however, doesn’t have funds to extend their pipelines and instead Pond Bay Club officials requested to install an injection well system.

The plan calls for digging three wells 100 feet deep into the aquifer to extract water and one well 150 feet deep to discharge the high-salinity brine back into the aquifer. If the plan is allowed, it will be the first injection well configuration in the territory.

Several months ago, the St. John CZM Committee approved Pond Bay’s request to apply for permits for the wells, but the group does not have the authority to okay the wells, according to Hills, who voted against the injection well request.

“The CZM Committee didn’t give them permission for the wells, we gave them permission to apply for permits for the wells,” said Hills. “Pond Bay has to go through two different agencies for those permits — the local Environmental Protection Agency and the federal EPA.”

Pond Bay Club is keeping its options open as far as water on the site, according to Emmett.

“We’re authorized to test for the wells at this point, but we’re working on plans ‘A,’ ‘B,’ and ‘C,’” said Emmett. “It looks like we’ll either have wells or WAPA. It really depends on how long everything takes and how long the restructuring takes.”