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CZM Committee OKs Marriott, Gas Station Plans

June 9, 2009 — Amidst legal concerns and the lack of a quorum in the final seconds of their meeting, senators Tuesday approved a lease agreement for the construction of a gas station near Percy's Bus Stop and a permit allowing for the reconstruction of a dock at Frenchman's Cove.
The St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee has already approved the construction permit for Surtep Enterprises — made up of husband and wife team Beverly Petrus and Allison "Allie" Petrus — for a facility on St. Thomas that would house a convenience store, gas station and food court replete with a bakery, Subway eatery and two local restaurants. A new roadway leading into the facility will be created north of Percy's while two bypass lanes running to the north and south would keep cars from piling up on the highway, Allison Petrus said during Tuesday's Planning and Environmental Protection Committee meeting.
The project is expected to cost about $2 million, and will bring to the island a locally owned station with lower prices. The three major gas companies operating on St. Thomas — Domino, Texaco/Chevron and Esso/Total — have for "too long monopolized the island's market and driven the price of gas unreasonably high," Petrus added.
Senators immediately made clear their support for the proposed 50-year lease. Legislative Legal Counsel Yvonne Tharpes, however, pointed out that the local CZM statute prohibits the government from approving anything more than a 20-year lease for submerged lands. Special legislation would be needed to change the term of the lease, she explained.
Furthermore, the permit already approved by the CZM committee should have been signed by the governor and ratified by the Legislature before the lease was considered, and should have included an occupancy permit, development permit or lease, she said. Tharpes suggested later that the permit, which is for "regular, fast land," be reissued, signed by the governor and ratified by the Legislature, as required by law.
Meanwhile, senators forwarded the lease onto the full Senate body, saying that there is already a request in for a bill draft to change the lease term from 20 to 50 years. Voting in favor of the lease were Sens. Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton "Ital" Dowe, Shawn-Michael Malone, Patrick Simeon Sprauve and Alvin L. Williams Jr.
Sens. Sammuel Sanes and Michael Thurland were absent Tuesday.
It took all of about 10 minutes for the committee to approve Marriott Ownership Resort's major CZM permit to allow for the reconstruction of a hurricane damaged dock, the construction of a concrete ramp and seawall and the installation of a floating dock and three swim platforms at the Frenchman's Cove Development on St. Thomas. The permit also allows for the use and occupancy of the submerged lands on which the structures will be built.
Williams, the only senator who got to speak to project representatives Tuesday, expressed his concern over the absence of a prevention plan for oil spills. Earlier in the meeting, however, Marriott Ownership Resorts executive John Kennedy said the dock won't be used to store or dispense fuel.
"The dock is intended for day use and is to provide a sunning area and an easier means of access to the water-based amenities," he explained.
Sprauve got ready to start his first round of questioning after Williams wrapped up, but Dowe interrupted, abruptly calling for a motion to approve the permit. After the motion was made, Williams walked off the floor. The remaining senators — Dowe, Malone and Sprauve — voted in favor of approving the permit.
Malone, the committee's chairman, said the vote carried since there was a quorum on the floor when the motion was made. But Tharpes contended that a quorum of four senators had to actually vote on the motion.
Malone said later that he will be asking legal counsel to issue an opinion on the vote, which will most like be redone at the committee's next meeting on June 15.
Present Tuesday were Donastorg, Dowe, Sprauve, Williams and non-committee member Sen. Celestino A. White Sr.
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