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HomeNewsArchivesCharlotte Amalie Harbor Dredging Project a Win-Win for St. Thomas

Charlotte Amalie Harbor Dredging Project a Win-Win for St. Thomas

Important work is to begin next month to secure the long-term economic future of the territory and preserve Lindbergh Bay. On Tuesday, April 7, we had the opportunity to present the facts about the Charlotte Amalie Harbor dredging project to the Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Commission. We offer our thanks both to members of the CZM Board for convening the hearing and to our fellow citizens in the territory for their civic engagement and interest in the project.
During the course of the CZM hearing, we answered every question with the facts about the dredging project. We will continue to work hard to allay concerns by presenting facts about the project in a transparent and open manner over the coming weeks. This letter provides a factual overview of the project and lays out the many ways the territory stands to benefit.
The Charlotte Amalie Harbor dredging project is a win-win opportunity for the territory — simultaneously securing our economic prosperity while contributing to the improvement of our natural environment. At the same time, a failure to complete the project on schedule threatens to severely impact our local economy and result in countless lost tourism dollars.
The six-month project, scheduled to begin next month, will benefit the territory in three critical ways:
— Facilitate the arrival of a new generation of cruise ships to St. Thomas;
— Enhance water quality and begin the process of restoring the natural coastline of Lindbergh Bay; and
— Secure long-term tourism revenue and economic stability of the territory.
Delegates from the V.I. Port Authority and West Indian Company Ltd., in continued collaboration through the Ports of Charlotte Amalie Economic Development Group, are working this week to proceed with the Charlotte Amalie Harbor dredging project, which will secure these benefits for the territory.
The project is being undertaken to accommodate the 30.5-foot draft (required depth) of the latest generation of cruise ships, known as Genesis-class vessels, which carry approximately 5,400 passengers and measure 180 feet (360 meters) in length, 154 feet (47 meters) in width (beam) and stand tall at 240 feet (65 meters) above water level.
In anticipation of the completed project, the territory has already received commitments for the first Genesis-class vessel to visit St. Thomas later this year, making timing for this project particularly of the essence. Royal Caribbean's Oasis of the Seas is scheduled to call weekly in Charlotte Amalie commencing Dec. 8, 2009, through April 27, 2010, and biweekly thereafter. Additional Genesis-class vessels are expected to be introduced in 2010, including the Royal Caribbean Allure of the Seas, which will be ready for December 2010. Based on current production, 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.
Current estimates predict more than $20 million in additional revenue for the territory as a result of Genesis-class visits during the first five months alone, and $30 million in its first full year of operation. Long-term, Genesis-class calls are expected to benefit our local economy by stimulating additional demand for V.I. retail, attractions and transportation services.
By accommodating these larger ships of the future, the Charlotte Amalie Harbor dredging project ensures that the territory will remain competitive in the industry for years to come. In addition, St. Thomas will be able to counter recent trends in the cruise industry that threaten to erode business for the territory. These include increased popularity of Western Caribbean ports, greater interest in Mediterranean itineraries and a growing desire by cruise lines to avoid U.S. ports due to border-protection policies and increases in the overall number of cruise guests that are not U.S. citizens.
Fellow Virgin Islanders, based on ongoing discussions between the Ports of Charlotte Amalie Economic Development Group and the territory's cruise partners, the strategic decision to dredge Charlotte Amalie harbor is a necessary action to maintain and grow cruise arrivals year over year.
In order to accommodate the first Oasis of the Seas visit in December and for the territory to be considered for future Genesis-class visits, the project must be completed no later than November 2009. 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 opposition to this project is based on environmental concerns that are not supported by the facts. Opponents failed at the CZM hearing to present any evidence in support of their claims.
The Charlotte Amalie Harbor dredging project will produce approximately 160,000 cubic yards of excavated sand and seafloor material that must be relocated. 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.
Following months of research and evaluation, the delegates found that depositing the materials into a historic dredge hole at Lindbergh Bay, created by the 1935 airport expansion, is estimated to have positive long-term environmental effects, while also enabling the project to be completed on schedule.
In accordance with EPA standards, any relocated material must meet the EPA criteria for the disposal of dredge sediment in U.S. waters. Sediment samples have been taken of the seafloor material in both locations to ensure the two sites are chemically similar.
Environmentalists have also determined that filling this dredge hole at Lindbergh Bay with the material excavated from the Charlotte Amalie Harbor project will improve the water quality of Lindbergh Bay in the long run, thus improving conditions for many maritime activities, including swimming, snorkeling, scuba diving and fishing. And the overall quality of the ecosystem stands to benefit by partially restoring the seafloor to its original depths.
During the evaluation process, the group weighed several additional locations and concluded there is not an alternative site on St. Thomas that can accommodate the large volume of sand and seafloor material, and also found that relocation to designated ocean deposit sites near Puerto Rico, even if approved by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, would add significant cost and delay completion of the project.
We truly respect and appreciate the concerns raised, and are writing today to say that these fears are unfounded and not supported by facts. The CZM hearing made clear that the project is being managed with utmost environmental responsibility and care. The project has been well evaluated and planned, and dredging and relocation will be completed safely and effectively. Importantly, the Virgin Islands will maintain its important relationship with the cruise industry by responding to this critical challenge. We sincerely ask and hope for the community's continued support of this significant economic initiative.

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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