Large crowd rallies against proposed Coral Bay marina during public hearing


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ST. THOMAS - A public hearing on the proposed Summer's End Yacht Club and St. John Marina in Coral Bay drew an overflow crowd of more than 200 people - some listening from the anteroom - to the Legislative Annex on St. John on Wednesday night.

While about a dozen of the people were in support of the marina proposed by Summer's End Group, many of the attendees were adamantly opposed to the proposal - stating that it would destroy Coral Bay as the community now knows it - a quiet, tight-knit, bucolic area where land and peace of mind are more valued than convenience and luxury.

Supporters, on the other hand, said it would enhance community, bringing jobs and income to an area they said has been losing inhabitants to surrounding communities with more development and opportunity.

The turnout, in fact, was so large at the meeting, which lasted from 5:30 to 10:30 p.m., that legislative officials were forced to open the annex's back doors to accommodate more than 100 people who had to stand outside because there was not enough room for all of the attendees inside the annex.

Those outside tried to watch and listen to the hearing from the doorways or the windows, making their presence known with only a few outbursts of snickers, shouts and applause in between speakers' comments.

The proposal on land

The Summer's End Yacht Club at the St. John Marina, as named by Summer's End Group, would be located in Coral Harbor across from Island Blues, Voyages and Coco Loba, according to the application.

Summer's End expects to begin work in early 2015.

The marina would have 145 slips, which would be available to nearly all boat sizes, according to Summer's End.

Summer's End is led by St. John residents Chaliese Summers, Rick Barksdale and V.I. Port Authority Board Chairman Robert O'Connor Jr.

The site in question also was being prepped for development as the Coral Bay Marina in 2006, though nothing ever came of the project. O'Connor was a partner in that project as well.

The current proposal is substantially larger than the previous plan.

"This project would help revitalize Coral Bay," said O'Connor, who characterized depriving Coral Bay of development and opportunity as a form of genocide.

On land, improvements for the proposed marina complex would include 120 off-street parking spaces, a new 56-seat restaurant, a Customs and Border Protection office, a marina office, marina engineering, marina security, fish and farmers markets, a crew shower and locker facilities.

Summer's End also would construct apartments to support marina management, as well as solid, hazardous and liquid waste management, stormwater management and fueling facilities.

If demand is high enough, Summer's End also has plans for four new buildings where additional retail, restaurant, office and commercial space would be located, along with six short-term rental units.

The proposal on water

In terms of the use of marine space, aside from the 145 slips, a mooring field with 12 mooring balls is part of the plan. An additional 75 moorings are proposed under the application as a public-private partnership with the Department of Planning and Natural Resources to better manage resources within Coral Bay.

Access to the upland businesses by boaters will occur via a dinghy dock located at one end of the marina. The marina also will include a diesel and gasoline fuel dock and a wastewater pump-out system available to the boating public.

Economic estimate

Barksdale said that the marina would create 90 or more jobs, equating to slightly more than $3 million in labor income annually. Barksdale also estimates that the annual economic impact to St. John would be about $8.8 million annually.

"Keep on doing what you're doing, and you're going to keep getting what you're getting," Barksdale said, stating that the community could greatly benefit from this marina.

The Coral Bay and St. John community together have suffered losses in their revenue and populations, Barksdale argued, as a result of economic hard times territory-wide.

"This is the St. John Marina, not the Coral Bay Marina," he said.

However, his claim was challenged by attorney Maria Hodge, who testified as a representative of the local Moravian Church, which for years has been planning its own marina across from the property proposed as a site by Summer's End, she said.

"The plans are not even mentioned, yet we know that they're aware of the plans because they met and tried to encourage collaboration," Hodge said.

The church has not applied yet for a permit, and Hodge was unable to offer details as to plans for the church's marina.

Community response

While many of the testifiers stated that they were not entirely opposed to a marina within Coral Bay Harbor, the majority agreed that the marina proposed by Summer's End is not the right marina.

"I think it is a little out of scope for the little island of St. John," said resident Phillip Pickering. "Coral Bay needs a marina, yes, but this is too big. It's going to affect the island in such a way that the same things people come here for - it's going to destroy."

Several Coral Bay residents - some of them from the community, others transplants - said that they did not know one person within the community who supports the efforts of Summer's End.

One member of the Coral Bay Community Council, and a former CZM committee member, Gerald Hills, set before each current committee member a stack of 300 pages of letters from 160 different people opposing the proposal.

"This is by far the worst proposal that I have seen in years," Hills said.

Residents took issue with the mitigation plan in particular, expressing concern about the environment effects the marina could have on the harbor, which is a nursing ground for certain fish and turtles and also is a rich sea grass area.

They also questioned whether Summer's End is aware of the effort that is required to access water and electricity from Coral Bay, which is about 20 to 30 minutes from Cruz Bay. Construction is an additional headache, residents said.

They also questioned the experience of the Summer's End principals, namely Summers and Barksdale, attacking their credibility and their care for the community and what St. John resident Phillip Strenger termed "Barksdale Bay."

"I believe this is a horrible idea being pushed by wanna-be developers," Strenger said. "Would you let someone who's never flown a plane fly your 747?"

Government officials expressed a very different point of view.

"We in the territory, we need economic activity. We've been stagnant for some time," said Percival Clouden, CEO of the Economic Development Authority.

A handful of St. Johnians who are running businesses and would like to see the benefits that could come from further developing St. John, specifically Coral Bay, also came forward

They applauded the effort and said that it would bring hope and success to Coral Bay and St. John, as well as to the entire territory.

The meeting

Aside from the controversy surrounding the marina, some of the participants argued that the meeting should not have been in August because so many residents are gone during this time and that it should have been in a larger space.

Winston Adams, chairman of the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission, said that the CZM permit applicant, Summer's End Development Group, asked for the public hearing to take place sooner rather than later.

Having expected a large crowd, though, it is unclear why DPNR officials acquiesced with the applicants' request and promptly held the meeting in the annex, which can hold only 75 people in the gallery.

Had the department waited to schedule until November, Adams said, the meeting likely could have been at the Westin Resort, where a larger conference facility currently is undergoing renovation.

Several participants also took issue with the committee's established quorum, or majority.

The legal counsel for Summer's End is J. Brion Morrisette, one of the three St. John CZM Committee members who appeared Wednesday night to meet the requirement for a quorum.

The other two members were Andrew Penn Jr., the committee chairman, and Edmund Roberts, who attended via a teleconference call.

Morrisette announced at the onset of the meeting that he was recusing himself from asking questions of Summer's End and that he would not be taking any action or trying to influence any action in the present or future.

"I am here because I have to be," Morrisette said, noting that, without him, the meeting would not be legal.

Morrisette said that he was offended by the rumors that something "funky" was going on and maintained that his actions as a board member and legal counsel to Summer's End all have been in good conscience.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email jkane@dailynews.vi.

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