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Charlotte Amalie
Saturday, April 13, 2024
HomeCommentaryOp-edOp-Ed: When Will We See the End of Summer's End Huge Marina...

Op-Ed: When Will We See the End of Summer’s End Huge Marina Plans?

Hurricane destroyed restaurant and apartment building eyesore under Summer's End control. (Photo by Sharon Coldren)
A Coral Bay restaurant and apartment building destroyed by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017 remain eyesores under Summer’s End control. (Photo by Sharon Coldren)

The remote community of Coral Bay, St. John, U.S. Virgin Islands has been under the threat of a 144-slip mega yacht marina development for more than a decade now.

I hear St. John citizens lament that the principals of the Summer’s End mega-yacht marina keep saying that “any day now the final permit will be received” from the Army Corps of Engineers. But this is flatly false. The reason the Army Corps is the central federal agency issuing a permit for a huge marina like this is because there are many environmental, navigational, historical preservation and public interest concerns that must be addressed by different federal agencies.

To get a permit, each of these concerns must reach a positive outcome at the relevant agency through analysis by their staff of the application documents and studies submitted.  Additionally, several non-governmental organizations, including the Coral Bay Community Council, provided the Army Corps with more than 30 expert analyses, thousands of pages, covering environmental and practical navigational and marina practices — all opposing the development of this kind of marina in remote Coral Bay, far from the nearest airport.

Under the Clean Water Act, the Environmental Protection Agency has the right and responsibility to reject a permit application if the project would damage an “aquatic area of national importance.” Coral Harbor has this designation. EPA issued what is called a “404Q” letter in opposition to the project in 2015. This still stands. Summer’s End claims they have revised and changed the project to be responsive to concerns — but to those of us who review their plans closely, they have literally made small changes “around the edges.”

The marina docks and density of boats parked there will directly harm more than 27 acres of seafloor vegetation with near constant shade, and indirectly harm a much larger area due to possible leaks of fuel and washing and other chemicals and stirring up sediment.  The local mangroves, already trying to recover from the hurricanes, are extremely susceptible to fuel spills.

And, before some people complain that this is an example of “too much federal regulation,” I would pose this rather as an example where some developers thought they could get away with doing a mega-yacht marina on the remote side of St. John, without meeting U.S. criteria for such a marina. Look it up: You could not get this kind of marina approved in Florida in a similar noncommercial bay with similar shallow depths ever since the Clean Water Act amendments of 1992. You cannot do this in the U.S. Virgin Islands either — for the same reasons, and actually more reasons in the USVI coral-rich environment.

I have previously stated in written testimony before the Virgin Islands Legislature in 2019 that the Summer’s End, LLC project is a fantasy, and provided much supporting analysis. Yet five years later in 2024, this marina project is still being promoted by Chaliese Summers and Rick Barksdale.

Local businesses that currently exist in the planned land footprint of the marina that want to invest in improvements or negotiate longer leases in these buildings cannot — due to the landowner agreements with Summer’s End. Why? Because “any day now the final permits will be granted” has been the Summer’s End public refrain since 2015.

This has completely stopped natural economic growth in this area, particularly following the devastation of the hurricanes of 2017. Further, Summer’s End has refused to remove hurricane building wreckage under their control — or allow nonprofit organizations to do the removal. This hurts everyone in Coral Bay every day as we drive by in this highly visible tourism area.

Over the years, we have used the Freedom of Information Act to get copies of email communications and documents that are part of the official project file in this lengthy Army Corps process.  It interesting to see how some of these communications could be construed as meaning that a final permit was near, when all that was being discussed was confirming that the most recent data and information could be leading to a particular report or step being finalized — before the next step could start.

For instance, right now a part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s consultation is reaching its final stage, but there is another division of NOAA whose consultation is still underway, and then when that information is agreed to on how much environmental damage the marina will inevitably cause, the applicant needs to write a “Mitigation Plan” to provide compensatory marine vegetation within their project footprint. Then this must be discussed, reviewed and gain  approval by NOAA and possibly other government agencies. How long will that take, if ever? This step alone has killed off many projects in the U.S.

Then there is the ongoing Archaeological Consultation — about a significant 1700’s shipwreck found in the dock footprint.  The marina has been modestly reconfigured to deal with it, but will still have mega-yachts passing right over this site. This consultation is not completed.

The Army Corps in 2018 said in a written letter to the applicant that the permit might be denied “due to not being in the public interest,” a finding that the Army Corps can make under the law, and occasionally does do. The Army Corps prefers to have the applicants withdraw rather than force this kind of active negative conclusion to the regulatory process.

Some of you will recall the Amalago Marina and hotel development on West End, St. Croix approved by CZM in 2009 which then started the Army Corps process. What happened to that? More than a decade later, the Army Corps met with the applicant’s representatives on St. Croix and told them it would likely be denied. That idea and permit application seems to have quietly gone away.

Who is Funding This?

But Summer’s End persists. Who is funding this? Who has an interest in a mega-yacht marina in Coral Bay? Who is willing to keep funding a project that is not very likely to be approved — or actually be financially profitable to build and operate? These conclusions are almost anyone’s judgment who is knowledgeable about environmental regulations and marina projects across the USA and the Caribbean. Where is the airport within 15 minutes?  Where is the nightlife for the crews? Where is the protection from being “rock and rolled” by the open Caribbean Sea?

When you add in the EPA flat-out warning that the Clean Water Act will not allow it and that EPA is exercising its opposition to the permit being granted by the Army Corps, and knowing there would be subsequent legal appeals, why would investors think that investing more funds in this application process is the best way to spend their money? Why are the Virgin Islands Senate and governor continuing to support this developer, rather than retracting the local permit due to the development’s many flaws?

Why is this application still ongoing? Who are the actual investors? Why are they hiding?  These are questions that need to be addressed now for the sake of the landowners and small businesses in Coral Bay and the overall successful local tourism economy being stifled right now by the continued threat of the “any day now” endless refrain from the Summer’s End mega-marina proponents.

— Sharon Coldren, past president and board member, Coral Bay Community Council

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