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HomeNewsArchivesCZM Gives Green Light to Williams and Punch Resort on St. Croix

CZM Gives Green Light to Williams and Punch Resort on St. Croix

Jan. 14, 2009 — The V.I. Coastal Zone Management committee Wednesday evening approved the CZM permit for the Amalago Bay resort development project in estates Williams and Punch, moving the half-billion-dollar-plus project one major step forward.
The V.I. Port Authority conference room in St Croix's Henry E. Rohlsen Airport was packed to standing room only, with half the audience holding placards in support of the project, though a smattering of vocal opponents were there, too. The crowd was emotional in its support, a grumbling murmur rising up and blending with the flapping of placards when it was unhappy.
At stake was approval of a proposed 378-unit coastal casino-resort development. The project, now being called Amalago Bay, borders Rainbow Beach on the south and Sunset Beach on the north. A total of 322 rooms are to be part of a main casino-hotel complex. Around that will be three swimming pools. An 18-hole public golf course is to run eastward up into the forested hills of Estates William and Punch. Two channels from the sea are to be carved inland, creating a lagoon for a 64-slip inland marina. The channels and lagoon will create a small beach island connected to the resort by a bridge coming over the south channel. A 56-room beach hotel is planned on the artificial island.
The project will require the developers to move the shore road inland. Plans have the road splitting off at Rainbow Beach and going in about 800 feet, turning north. Then it will blend with Creque Dam Road before rejoining Northside Road. It is the inland-marina proposal that has drawn the most comment during the planning phase.
"We see it as a sister development, if you will, to the town of Frederiksted," said Wade Blackmon, an attorney with the Mashantucket Pequot tribe, the casino-owning deep pockets behind the project.
His remarks came during his opening statement before questioning by the CZM committee.
"The two, side by side, along with the cruise-ship pier, is something not found elsewhere," Blackmon said. "Our goal is, within a few years, once it's open, people will be talking about Amalago Bay and will want to go to Amalago Bay."
Committee members had sharp questions about the proposed marina, the number of jobs to be created, tax benefits conferred by the Economic Development Authority, public restrooms, public parking, sediment control, renewable energy, financing, performance bonding and other topics.
Charles D. Peters asked about any blasting or explosives use.
"The borings we took showed basically soft limestone," said Chris Elliot, one of the project's partners. "I believe there was nothing bigger than about two feet — all easy to excavate with a backhoe."
Noting the plans call for a Caribbean-style design, Peters asked if there were any possibility these details would change before the project was built.
"From the beginning we directed the architectural firm we wanted to design the marina village to reflect the architecture specifically of St. Croix, not just the Caribbean," Elliott said.
There have been changes in projects before, Peters said.
"I've dealt with this in the past, personally," he said. "With a project this size, I want these answers on the record."
After questions, Janice D. Hodge, director of CZM, summarized CZM's findings for the committee, and formally recommended approval of the permit.
Committee member Neil Somon moved to approve the permit, subject to 36 detailed conditions. These included requiring 25 percent of the resort's power to come from alternative sources, establishing training programs in cooperation with the University of the Virgin Islands, funding some scholarships, ensuring there are performance bonds in place so the project doesn’t get left half-built, establishing a coral nursery, and an array of other efforts to reduced the impact and increase the benefits to the people of St. Croix.
The motion failed. Voting yea were Peters and Simon. Voting nay were Masserae Sprauve-Webster and Seales. Committee member Robert Merwin was directed to recuse himself. Afterward, Merwin said CZM legal counsel told him to recuse himself because he owns property adjacent to the proposed development.
With the failed vote, the crowd got louder. Some people shouted "do your jobs" and "St. Thomas will love to take the project." Placards waved.
"Don't be intimidated, do what you know is right," shouted Frederiksted resident and project critic Mary Moorhead from the back, by the door.
Seales made a motion to reject the permit application, which failed for lack of a second. The crowd got louder yet. Seales said the committee was going into executive session. No legal justification for the normally illegal closed meeting was given. Instead, Seales cited the chapter and section of V.I. Code on closed meetings — which, ironically, is not required by the code. (Click here and type in "open meetings" to see.)
Asked about the legal justification for the closed meeting, CZM legal counsel Dalila Patton said all that was required for a closed meeting to be legal was to cite the passage of law about closed meetings. She said to take any complaints to the CZM offices at a later date.
After returning from the illegal closed session, Simon again moved to approve the permit, changing one of the 36 conditions. Instead of agreeing to maintain and replenish beach sand for 500 feet past either end of the resort, the developers would maintain and replenish beach sand for
"a distance on either side equal to the length of the resort island."
This time, the permit was approved. Voting yea were Peters and Simon. Seales voted nay and Sprauve Webster abstained.
The room erupted with shouts. People hugged one another. The committee adjourned amid the noise.
"This is a great day," said Kevin Rames, local attorney and partner in the project. "Now the next step is to work through our Army Corps of Engineers permit."
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