Coastal Zone Management has no representation at Thatch Cay appeal hearing


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ST. THOMAS - Typically at an appellate hearing, each side has representation.

That was not the case Wednesday at the Board of Land Use Appeals hearing regarding the future development of Thatch Cay.

The owners of Thatch Cay were appealing the decision of the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee to deny a permit extension for a development project on the small island, located about a half-mile offshore of Coki Point.

The owners were represented by attorney George Dudley, but no one was at the hearing to represent the St. Thomas CZM committee.

At the start of the hearing, V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission chairman Winston Adams asked to make a statement for the record. Some board members did not believe he had any standing to address the board; others wanted to hear what he had to say. Vice-chairman Aloy Nielsen, acting in the capacity of chairman Wednesday, decided to allow the statement.

Adams explained that the V.I. CZM Commission is made up of private citizens, nominated by the governor and confirmed by the V.I. Legislature - just like the Board of Land Use Appeals is.

The commission is broken down into three committees, one for each island, which make decisions about CZM permit applications.

Adams said while the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Coastal Zone Management has a staff attorney, the commission - a separate entity from the division - does not have its own legal counsel.

He argued that the V.I. Attorney General functions as the legal counsel for the government, and the Board of Land Use Appeals is assigned an assistant attorney general, therefore, the V.I. CZM Commission also should have an attorney assigned to represent them.

"In this matter, the decision of the commission did not correspond with that of the CZM staff. Since the CZM attorney would be forced to take a position against the Division he represents in this matter, he is unable to represent the commission today," Adams said.

When reached for comment after the hearing, V.I. Attorney General Vincent Frazer said he was unaware of the problem. He said he thought that the CZM Division attorney, Winston Brathwaite, also represented the CZM Commission.

"I thought he was counsel for the commission," Frazer said. "I was always under the impression they had counsel."

Frazer said he would look into the matter and speak to DPNR Commissioner Alicia Barnes about it.

Adams also questioned the Board of Land Use Appeals' timing in hearing the Thatch Cay appeal. He said under the V.I. Code, an appeal must be heard 60 days after it is filed with the board, and a decision must be made 30 days after the public hearing.

"The petition for appeal was filed in this matter on or about March 4, 2013. Today's date is Jan. 29, 2014. More than 10 months have passed," Adams said.

He questioned the board's authority to hear the matter, considering the delay in scheduling the hearing.

Assistant Attorney General Paul Paquin, representing the appellate board, pointed to some language in the board's rules and regulations that allowed for a more open-ended time frame.

After the meeting, CZM Division Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said: "I don't know legally just yet about approving something 10 months after the appeal."

Oriol said the division would look into the board's claim that the appeal was heard in a timely manner that complies with the V.I. Code.

- Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 714-9111 or email alewin@dailynews.vi.

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