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HomeNewsArchivesEnvironmental and Historic-Preservation Concerns Surround Proposed Great St. James Island Development

Environmental and Historic-Preservation Concerns Surround Proposed Great St. James Island Development

May 23, 2007 — At least one government agency has raised concerns about a development proposed for Great St. James Island, whose owners are looking to construct and sell 53 individual home units priced at about $750,000 each.
More will be revealed about the details of the development during a public hearing scheduled for Thursday at 6 p.m. in the Department of Planning and Natural Resources' conference room at Cyril E. King Airport on St. Thomas. At that time, residents will have the opportunity to voice their opinions about the project.
According to information attached to the required major Coastal Zone Management permit application, DPNR's Division of Fish and Wildlife has already made clear their own concerns, which center on preservation of the island's lush vegetation, marine life and natural salt ponds.
In a letter dated May 4, Fish and Wildlife Director David Olsen requests that the applicant, listed throughout the CZM documents as Christian Kjaer, present an "adequate" tree-boa mitigation plan (designed to preserve the habitat of one of the island's indigenous reptiles) and suggests that the island's salt ponds and surrounding wetland vegetation be segregated from the development sites.
Until the applicant fixes various "deficiencies" listed in an environmental-assessment report, Fish and Wildlife recommends that a "permit not be granted at this time," Olsen continues.
On another portion of the permit application, typed in bold lettering, CZM has also tacked on its own disclaimer: "Great St. James Island is surrounded by a marine sanctuary. Any proposed development of this island should come under heavy scrutiny." Studies of the proposed development area also state that the island's terrestrial and marine ecosystems have also "flourished" due to the lack of activity in the area.
CZM reports also indicate that some of the proposed lots contain wetlands and should be excluded from the actual building site.
"After buffering, the land is not appropriate for construction of any kind," the report says. "Great St. James has one of the highest densities of wetlands in the USVI. The six coastal ponds on Great St. James are coastal features, which serve as sediment traps to maintain water quality and serve as an important wildlife habitat. The coastal ponds can be drastically altered by upland development and may fill in too rapidly with sediments."
According to the development plans, the proposed homes will span approximately 163 acres — the entirety of plots marked on CZM maps as A, B and C. Each two-story house will also sit on about three acres of land.
A letter attached to the application from the project's designer, William Karr and Associates, also states that homes built on the island will, during the short term, be responsible for the production of their own electricity. "Homes will rely on roof catchment for water supply and will have individual batch sewage-treatment plants," the letter states.
If the homes sell at the proposed $750,000 price, the V.I. government will collect nearly $300,000 in property taxes annually, the letter adds. Currently property taxes paid to the local government totals about $21,530.
Other Development Needs
Other local government agencies, such as the Waste Management Authority and the State Historic Preservation Office, have also included letters detailing various suggestions for the proposed development.
WMA Executive Director May Adams Cornwall, for example, states that a solid-waste collection and disposal plan has not been addressed in the CZM application. "Development of individual lots on the island will require a solid-waste disposal plan," Cornwall writes.
Historic Preservation Director Myron Jackson also details the need for developers to preserve some of the island's archaeological treasures — such as the remains of Great St. James Village, a few grave sites, cart paths and a well at Christmas Cove on the southwest side of the island.
According to a 2005 archaeological report, the village contains the ruins of at least 17 domestic and store buildings, along with a large rectangular cistern with a vaulted roof, a bathhouse and a water trough. Studies show that at least two grave sites, marked by a gathering of coral and shells, lay between two of the structures.
Cart paths to the west of the village site appear to lead to Christmas Cove, the report states. Historic Preservation also indicates the need to preserve a well located at Christmas Cove, which contains a dry-laid rubble casing.
While some of the artifacts found within or around the village date to the 19th and 20th centuries, a few also appear to indicate that the village was occupied during the late 18th century.
Environmental Protection and Other Mitigation Efforts
Karr and Associates' development plans do include a number of environmental protection and mitigation efforts, such as long-terms plans for the monitoring water and soil quality. According to the documents, the main components of the island's historical village will also be set aside and preserved in a green-space area.
The transporting of construction materials and equipment to and from the island was a great concern for CZM, since development plans initially outlined a temporary barge landing site in Christmas Cove. "A diverse benthic community containing hard corals is found in and/or adjacent to the proposed barge landing area," says one notation included in the complete application.
In response, Karr and Associates outline a new landing location on the northern end of the bay — a spot with "minimal coral colonization" and a wide sand plain before the stretch of seagrass beds.
The plans state that the proposed site will be marked off two months before the first barge landing, and photographs will be taken and assessed for "live coral tissue coverage." Four additional "control quadrants" will also be established near the site to "compare ambient conditions to those within the potential impact" landing zone.
Conditions in each of the quadrants will be assessed for two months before barges start to arrive, and a baseline report will subsequently be issued to DPNR, CZM and other environmental-protection agencies. Throughout the course of the development, weekly logs will be kept of the water quality in the area, and 70 additional photo-zones will be set up near the coastline to monitor the development's offshore impacts, the plans say.
Erosion-control measures, such as the erection of silt fences and construction exits, are also included in the plans.
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