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Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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To Manage, Enhance, Preserve and Protect

Dear Source:
There has never been a better time to sit back, take a deep breath, and really look at what kind of place we want our islands to be. What kind of island environment do we want to live in and leave to our children and what kind of island do we want to present to the world? It would be nice to think that we would choose the best path simply for ourselves and future generations, but since our economy survives off of tourism, it would be wise to consider presenting ourselves and our islands in a manner that promotes sustainability, conservation, and longevity. Overbuilt and saturated island vacation destinations are a dime a dozen and growing in numbers every year. What is more desirable and becoming harder to find are places to live and visit that maintain the very thing that everyone is looking for … natural beauty.
The past decade has produced some huge development projects in St Thomas and St John that may have seemed to some at that time to be a great benefit to our islands. Yet when built they are more of a detriment than an enhancement and seem only to benefit a small few. Who would argue that Cruz Bay in St John is more beautiful now than it was ten years ago? Who would argue that we need more retail or office space in Red Hook? Who would argue that the Mandahl Jetty did not destroy the beach? Who would argue that your local beach should be rezoned and developed beyond recognition along with the nearby outer cays? The answer is … only a small few.
Development projects start out as wonderful stories of beautiful buildings and benefits worth millions of dollars to our economy. But in the end, a small few make their money and then they leave us with something that all too often turns out to be a project that we would have been much better off without. The latest future disaster up for consideration is The Port of Mandahl project. This is not just a residential, hotel, marina or retail development… it is all and more rolled up into one that the developer is calling a "village"
In case anyone has not noticed, our island doesn't need anymore major residential developments. Years ago developers pitched a great story for Green Cay Plantation yet there it sits today still undeveloped. Now we have the beginnings of the same situation out at Botany Bay Estates. The roads and electricity are in, the gates are up, and security is there to guard dozens of acres of empty land. If you want to go to the beach you have to park outside the gate, sign a waiver and walk a mile. Now, after two years not a single home is built. The financing that is needed to continue that project has all but evaporated and the same is probably true for Thatch Cay since it is for sale as the ink dries on the governor's signature of approval.
We don't need any more hotels… we have one in Smith Bay that sits empty and rotting as you read this letter.
Do we need any more shopping centers? No one can argue that the once premier shopping destination in the Eastern Caribbean, Charlotte Amalie, is not suffering from a case of urban blight that is reducing its shopping footprint exponentially each year. Where is the wisdom in building more retail space? We should be fixing what we already have. While there is no doubt that the Yacht Haven Grand project is a beautiful improvement over the dilapidated Ramada Hotel, I have to ask…. did we really need it? Eight months out of the year the marina is empty. Two of the property's three restaurants have already undergone management changes. Stores have come and gone. The supposed yacht club was never finished. The hotel has yet to be built and the fate of phase two of the marina project must certainly be a forgone conclusion. While we are talking about forgone conclusions, let's mention the Crown Bay Terminal. Who could argue that this project has brought us more ships or has increased revenue for our island? The answer to that question is no one. The ships that use that terminal were already serviced sufficiently by the West Indian Company at the Havensight facility. The ships agent hired by the Port Authority for Crown Bay allegedly owes them millions of dollars of ship fees that were collected but never passed on. In addition to all of this, the only reason most of the ships dock there is because they contracted for a lesser rate. So it would seem, this facility is actually costing us money; and since the stores in the mall there are closed more days than they are open and one entire building still sits empty and unfinished, I have to ask…. did we really need it?
For the first time in twenty years there is retail space sitting empty and available in Havensight Mall. There is retail space available in Charlotte Amalie, Crown Bay, Yacht Haven Grande and Red Hook. This is not a result of the current economic situation. This is a result of unbridled development. As a people we sat and watched this happen and the blame can be placed squarely on our own shoulders. Every one of us needs to pay attention to upcoming development projects and participate in the decision making process. The CZM hearing for the Port of Mandahl project is the next opportunity we will have to voice our opinions on something that is not necessary and will definitely have a huge negative impact on our island. Not one single element of this proposed project is necessary for the survival or the betterment of our island. I would like to ask everyone who reads this letter to go to the CZM website and read its mission statement. Its operative words are "manage, enhance, preserve, protect, coastal resources". In my humble opinion, it seems to me that the past and current boards of the CZM have overlooked the obvious meaning of this mission statement or are in need of some public input for a more narrow interpretation. I mean absolutely zero disrespect to the current head of the CZM board Mr. Monsanto, but how ironic is it that one of the biggest wastes of our tax payers' dollars is named after him. The Austin "Babe" Monsanto Crown Bay Terminal…. preserve and protect, yeah right. I have a much better and fitting idea. Save Mandahl Salt Pond, preserve it, and call it the Babe Monsanto Preserve at Mandahl Bay. That would be an example of my interpretation of management, enhancement, preservation, and protection of our coastal resources. Our islands certainly don't need anymore shopping centers or empty marina slips, hotel rooms or retail/office spaces. We have plenty. What we need more of is empty beaches… not just for our visitors, but also for ourselves.
Jose Belcher
St. Thomas

Editor's note: We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to visource@gmail.com.

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