CZM allows Coral World to begin construction on dolphinarium before Army Corps OKs permit


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ST. THOMAS - The St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Commission voted Thursday to amend a permit issued to Coral World last year to build a dolphin exhibit.

The modification will allow the park to start construction on the land-based part of the project - a two-story multi-purpose building - even though the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit for the water-based dolphin enclosure has not yet been approved.

When the original permit was granted in 2013, it contained a special condition that said all applicable territorial and federal permits must be approved prior to the start of any construction activities.

In February, heavy equipment was brought in to clear the land where the building will be built.

In March, CZM Division Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said the CZM permit was issued after the governor signed it in November 2013, and Coral World sent notice that work would begin shortly after that.

He said it was only land clearing; however, at Thursday's meeting the story was different.

Coral World General Manager Trudie Prior said excavation had been done on the site.

CZM board member Sarah Simmonds asked why they began work when the permit conditions expressly forbid it.

"There was a certain lack of clarity on our part, and we went ahead and did some excavation," Prior said.

Prior said a different division within the Department of Planning and Natural Resources awarded the earth change permit, and she assumed that because the land-based project had the proper permits, Coral World could move ahead.

"We though we had clarity, that we were getting all the permits required for that part," she said.

Oriol said that Coral World representatives apparently had emailed notification that they were going to proceed with excavation, but it was sent to a non-working email address. Oriol said the email system the department used switched in April 2013.

Coral World did not get a "bounce back" message indicating Oriol did not receive the email, so they assumed notification had been properly made and proceeded with the work.

When Oriol found out they had started excavation, he stopped all work at the site based on the special conditions of the permit.

Work ceased and the area was fenced off and silt fences put in place to prevent erosion into Water Bay, according to Prior. Under the new modification to the permit's conditions, Coral World can move ahead on the land-based construction even if the Army Corps permit is not approved.

When asked about the status of the federal Army Corps permit, Prior said they have provided the agency with all the necessary documents and have just gotten word that the "extreme" backlog is lifting and within the last two weeks the Army Corps has begun to review the Coral World permit application.

"And this means they're getting close?" CZM member Winston Adams asked.

"We hope," Prior said.

A second request, to build a pedestrian passageway under the road and parking lot connecting Coral World's main complex to the new learning center building, was tabled for 30 days.

After the meeting, Prior said the next step is to award a contract for the construction of the building. The project already was put out to bid, she said.

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

Other actions taken in Thursday's Coastal Zone Management Commission meeting:

- A permit renewal for Gottlieb's Quickway Service Center was approved. The gas station is located on filled land, leased from the V.I. government, and the permit will allow the operators to upgrade several underground gasoline storage tanks.

- A permit was approved for the continued use and occupancy of a dock in Frydenhoj, owned by Neal and Diane Henderson.

- A permit for MSI Building Supplies to develop Lot 7 Crown Bay Fill. MSI plans to use the steel frame of an existing building to construct a new building and to build a new building on the same lot. The area will be used for the retail sale of building supplies and warehouse purposes.

- A permit for MSI Building Supplies to continue to use three lots on filled land in Crown Bay as a storage and fabrication yard for raw building materials.

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