April 6, 2009 — The Coastal Zone Management Commission Tuesday evening will hear proponents and opponents of proposed dredging in Charlotte Amalie Harbor and disposal of the spoils in a hole in Lindbergh Bay.
The hearing will take place at 6 p.m. Tuesday at the Port Authority Conference Room. The Source was told originally the meeting would be held at the Planning and Natural Resources conference room at the Cyril E. King Airport. But later the venue was changed, according to DPNR spokesman Jamal Nielsen.
The dredging of the harbor will facilitate access for a new, larger generation of cruise ships, improve water quality at Lindbergh Bay, and ensure long-term economic stability for the territory, according to a release from the applicants, the West Indian Company Ltd. and the V.I. Port Authority.
The dredging project is designed to accommodate the 40-foot draft of the latest generation of cruise ships, known as Genesis-class vessels. The first of this generation, Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas, is scheduled to call weekly starting in December.
It is estimated that larger ships, such as Genesis-class vessels, will represent the majority of total cruise capacity in the region within five years. The dredging project will ensure that the territory remains competitive in the industry, according to the release.
The dredging project is expected to generate about 175,000 cubic yards of excavated sand and seafloor material.
While dredging the channel is a largely popular idea, the proposed placement of the spoils is not.
The Coalition to Save Lindbergh Bay says that it objects vehemently to the proposed dumping site in a hole created when fill was needed to build the airport. The coalition's objections include bringing material that they claim holds toxins to the Lindbergh Bay site, as well as the sights and sounds generated by machinery for a 24-hour, several-month-long process of dumping in a bay that is home to four hotels. (See "Proposal to Dump Dredging Spoils Draws Opposition.")
"From all that I have heard, it can be positive in terms of water quality and possibly restore some of the beach area," said Cassan Pancham, chairman of the VIPA governing board.
The release from VIPA and the West Indian Co. elaborated on Pancham's position.
"To ensure the safest and most responsible relocation of the excavated material, the government has worked closely with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and local environmental experts to determine the best options for relocating the excavated land," the release said. "… depositing the materials into a historic dredge hole at Lindbergh Bay, created by the 1935 airport expansion, would have largely positive long-term environmental effects, while also enabling the project to be completed on schedule."
EPA standards require that relocated material must meet the EPA criteria for the disposal of dredge sediment in U.S. waters. Sediments deemed "toxic" or exceeding EPA criteria for disposal in U.S. waters will not be relocated to the selected site. Sediment samples have been taken of the seafloor material in both locations to ensure the two sites are chemically similar, the release said.
The release went on to state that environmentalists have also determined that filling this dredge hole at Lindbergh Bay with the excavated material will improve the water quality of Lindbergh Bay long term. … This will also improve the quality of the ecosystem by partially restoring the seafloor to its original depths, the release said.
Opponents disagree, stating that the dredge hole in Lindberg Bay is healing itself.
Elizabeth Kadison, a marine biologist with the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, dove the site two weeks ago, and will testify as an expert at the hearing.
"I was amazed at the life in the bay," Kadison said. "I was not expecting it."
Kadison found some 50 species of fish in her dives, along with juvenile lobsters, new coral colonies, and growth of sea grass around the hole.
Economically, accommodating the large class of ships could prove critical to the territory's economy. Estimates predict more than $30 million in additional revenue for the territory as a result of Genesis-class visits during the first five months alone, according to the release.
The project must be completed no later than November 2009 to accommodate the Oasis of the Seas visit in December.
Any delay in the completion of the project would jeopardize long-term cruise revenue for the territory as well as a significant number of tourism-related jobs, the release stated.
"This project will improve our local economy by dramatically boosting tourism in a relatively short period of time and will enable our destination to remain competitive as a premier Eastern Caribbean port of call," said Edward Thomas, president and chief executive officer of WICO, according to the release. "Unnecessary delay or late completion of the project will result in a lasting negative economic impact on the territory through lost cruise commitments to other ports in the region."
For more information on the application or Tuesday night's hearing, contact the Department of Planning and Natural Resources at 774-3320.
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