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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, June 22, 2024


June 1, 2003 – With such continuous strain placed on the territory's natural and economic resources, many residents consider it essential to practice conservation in their use of water, electricity and funds. But according University of the Virgin Islands Cooperative Extension Service experts, there is a desperate need to conserve yet another element: soil.
Most of the soil in the Virgin Islands "is shallow and placed overtop a lot of rock," Julie Wright, CES National Resource Program supervisor, said at a community-outreach workshop this week. This poses problems in the construction of new homes and threatens the environment, she explained, as pollutants can pass easily into guts and coastal waters.
In a Pre-Construction Planning Workshop for Property Owners held on Thursday at UVI's Sports and Fitness Center on St. Thomas, Wright collaborated with fellow CES agent Dale Morton in covering, literally, a lot of ground. They discussed appropriate practices prior to the construction of a new home — including the steps needed to improve the site's physical and ecological stability — and the environmental effects of such practices.
The workshop had been presented two days earlier on St. John and will be repeated Tuesday on St. Croix, from 7 to 9 p.m. in Room 133 of the UVI Research and Extension Center.
The first step in the planning process, Wright said on Thursday, is to assess site conditions. She emphasized the importance of doing this before construction begins, in order to:
– Conserve valuable topsoil (which is vital for landscaping after construction).
– Prevent costly landslide and flooding problems.
– Conserve natural areas and native species of plants.
– Minimize paved areas.
– Prevent property damage.
– Minimize stormwater runoff and downstream pollution.
Wright covered the significance of hydrology, or how water flows across a piece of property, in the "assessing" process. She said it is important to build an adequate distance from guts, wetlands and shorelines. "When we're talking about guts found in the V.I., the largest trees, and frequently many endangered species, are found there," she said, "so they also end up functioning as habitats."
She noted that by law construction cannot take place within specified distances from these surface waters — at least 25 feet from the edge of a gut and at least 150 feet from the edge of shorelines and wetlands.
Erosion and sediment control practices are critical, Wright and Morton said, describing the use of revegetation, retaining walls, terracing and the silt fences placed property around properties.
"Sediment control practices are not as effective as erosion control practices," Wright said. "However, V.I. soils are predominantly clay-ey. These types of soil particles are extremely difficult to remove from runoff, and when clay particles pass through silt fencing, they take a very long time to settle out of runoff in holding ponds."
The presence of construction sediment in surface runoff poses a substantial threat to the territory's coastlines and coral reefs, she said. "It's these levels of abrasive sediment that scour the corals and weaken them so that they lose their ability to fight diseases," she said.
It can take "three to five years for these corals to return," she added, but if the runoff is continuous, "it becomes harder for them to be able to return."
Wright stressed the importance of utilizing local resources such as soil surveys and topographic, sediment reduction and water resource maps in making a site assessment or developing a pre-construction plan.
Here are some resource for further Information on construction site assessment and planning:
– U.S. Department of Agriculture Natural Resource Conservation Service, St. Croix — Rudy O'Reilly or Faye Williams, 692-9632, ext. 101.
– UVI Cooperative Extension Service, St. Thomas — Julie Wright and Dale Morton, 693-1080.
– UVI Conservation Data Center, St. Thomas — Dayle Barry, 693-1030.
– The U.S. Department of Agriculture's V.I. soil survey Web site document.
– UVI digitized maps, 693-1030.

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