The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is not trying to delay the proposed Amalago Bay resort on St. Croix, NOAA officials said Wednesday. The organization just needs more detailed information on how the hotel, marina and golf course complex at estates William and Punch would affect turtle nesting and coral reefs.
It has been more than a year since the developers submitted their U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit application materials, and one factor in the delay is that NOAA has yet to submit its comments to the corps, although several deadlines to do so have come and gone. In February, St. Croix civic activist George Flores and a group of pro-development residents calling itself "We the People" held a town meeting and a protest aimed at getting the permit process moving along.
After the protest in February, Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen met with NOAA and Environmental Protection Agency officials and said she was told NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service Habitat Conservation Division would submit its analysis of the proposed development's impacts to essential fish habitat by April 26. But that deadline was extended two more times. And now NOAA is asking for more information before offering its comments.
On Tuesday, We the People protested outside the Almeric Christian Federal Building in Christiansted, again demanding movement on the permits and alleging that NOAA is dragging its feet when St. Croix urgently needs the project.
NOAA denies it is trying to cause a delay.
A NOAA deputy administrator said in a phone interview Wednesday the agency has been doing its “level best” and understands the urgency of the project."
"While I understand the need to move forward, our obligation under the law is to make sure all the environmental impacts are anticipated and mitigated," Miles Croom said, adding that while the resort jobs are important, "our job is to be part of that balancing act ... and safeguard those environmental qualities that help draw people here in the first place."
Croom said the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had requested more detailed information on sea turtle nesting and on fish and coral habitats potentially affected by the development. "From NOAA's standpoint, the data will be used by the Army Corps of Engineers.” He explained that NOAA will then use the information from the Army Corps.
“So there is not any more we can do until the developer provides that information to the Army Corps and they provide it to us," he said.
Croom confirmed that NOAA initially asked the Army Corps of Engineers to request the additional information.
Asked how the new information being requested was different from turtle nesting and marine impact information supplied in the developers' 2,000-page permit request, Croom said the permit application had broad outlines, but no detailed data on the areas of concern.
Once NOAA has the information it seeks, it will use it to suggest ways to proceed with the resort while mitigating any impact, he said.
"Our job is not to stop projects, but to (proceed) in a way that doesn’t inappropriately or significantly harm the natural environment," Croom said.
Croom declined to speculate how long after it received the information NOAA would weigh in with suggestions, saying it was unpredictable because it depended on what was submitted and how much the plans might need to be changed.
The project, now being called Amalago Bay, would border Rainbow Beach on the south, and Sunset Beach on the north.