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HomeNewsArchivesSPEAKER: CONSERVATION, DEVELOPMENT CAN COEXIST

SPEAKER: CONSERVATION, DEVELOPMENT CAN COEXIST

May 16, 2002 – Through comprehensive planning, conservation and development can find a meeting of the minds, said Charles James Gibbons, a featured speaker at the territory's Nonpoint Source Pollution Conference. The two-day conference kicked off Thursday at the Westin Resort on St. John.
About 185 people, many of them Virgin Islands residents who work for various government agencies, came to find ways to deal with "nonpoint source pollution." This scientific term covers pollution cause by sediment running down the hillsides when it rains, among other sources. Runoff is a major source of seawater pollution in the territory.
Gibbons, a professional land use planner who works at the University of Connecticut's Cooperative Extension Service, has put together a program called Nonpoint Education for Municipal Officers. The program helps scientific and bureaucratic folks such as those at the conference find ways to help government officials and people who serve on boards and commissions understand the issues of nonpoint pollution.
"A picture is worth a thousand words and 10-plus maps," he said Thursday.
Gibbons said that all too often, those charged with making the final decisions on projects and issues are faced with huge incomprehensible books of data gathered by people like those in the room where he was speaking. This, he said, makes it just about impossible for the decision makers to make good decisions.
One of those large books that would help the territory plan its development, the Comprehensive Land and Water Use Plan, has been sitting on the shelf for more than a decade without implementation. "It's important to get that through," said Sen. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg.
Gibbons said that some people view planning as "a communist plot," but he noted that in his native New England, people as far back as the 17th century Puritans developed their towns with a plan in mind.
In discussing the need for the Land and Water Use Plan, Donastorg bemoaned the loss of some of the territory's open space through development since the use plan was first hatched. He cited the resort planned for Botany Bay on St. Thomas's west end and the recent Ritz-Carlton expansion on the island's east end.
Open space was one of the issues Gibbons addressed. "Green areas are nature's filters," he said. He also said many people oppose green space because they don't see its value, it doesn't appear to contribute to the property tax base, and they're afraid unsavory elements will use it to congregate.
Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, who chairs the Senate Planning and Environmental Protection Committee, said in his welcoming remarks that he recognizes the challenges of balancing development with conservation. "We can only hope that local municipal officers take advantage of the information presented here," he said.
Cole said he supports a one-tier system of dealing with development. "Some of the developers might not like that, but we have to take a stand," he said. In the territory's current two-tier system, only development in the first tier, which is closer to the water, gets intense scrutiny by the Coastal Zone Management Commission. Development on the islands' upper slopes, which is where the worst run off usually occurs, does not have to adhere to guidelines issued by the Planning and Natural Resources Department for Tier 1 permits.
Cole's call for a one-tier system caused St. John resident Sylvia Weaver to bristle. Weaver, a member of the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee some 20 years ago before her move to St. John, said the committee pushed for a one-tier system back then.
Weaver said she found Gibbons' teaching tools at the conference valuable. "One of the troubles here is that people come on commissions and they don't know what they can and cannot do," she said.
One person recently appointed to the V.I. Conservation District Board of Supervisors, St. John resident Charles "Trinidad Charlie" Deyalsingh, said he was at the conference to learn all he can to help him do better in his post. "Education," he succinctly put it.

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