Protesters angry over delays to development
Published: September 26, 2012
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ST. CROIX - Demonstrators gathered outside the federal courthouse Tuesday morning to protest delays in the permitting process for a proposed resort development project on the island's west end - delays that they blame on two federal agencies.
We the People, a community organization that spokesman George Flores says works to help St. Croix move progressively ahead, organized the protest against the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency. Demonstrators contend that the two agencies are causing delays that are preventing the proposed William and Punch development from obtaining a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers.
Members of We the People were joined by some fishermen and others, including candidates for office, for the protest. Flores estimated that about 30 people showed up.
"I think they're dragging their feet," Flores said of the EPA and of the National Marine Fisheries Service, which is under NOAA. "They're moving too slow, and some of the questions they're asking are silly."
Flores said the island needs the jobs that could come with a significant project such as William and Punch.
We the People has demonstrated for the same reason before, in February. The protest Tuesday was called because organizers heard that an official with the National Marine Fisheries Service had a meeting in the federal building Tuesday morning.
Flores said he called out to her on his bullhorn.
"She never came out," he said, although he also acknowledged that protestors never saw the official and were not actually sure she was inside the building.
Chris Elliott, vice-president of planning for William and Punch and also part of the ownership group, said that it is necessary to obtain the Army Corps of Engineers permit before William and Punch can move forward with the final design for its proposed Amalago Bay Resort or raising capital for the project.
The developers still need to secure the $275 million in financing necessary for the first phase of the resort project, which would include two hotels, a water recreation area, a golf course, casino and marina, as well as all road infrastructure, Elliott said.
Elliott said that the Army Corps of Engineers is awaiting opinions from NOAA and EPA before acting on the permit - and contended that there had been significant delays in the process.
"I wish it was different, but it's just part of the process," Elliott said. "It's a very complicated project because there are so many features involved."
Elliott said he was at the demonstration.
"I came out to support my supporters and brought them some cold water," he said.
The Daily News contacted the EPA and NOAA's National Marine Fisheries Service about the allegations.
The EPA provided what it described as its most recent correspondence on the matter - a letter from Region 2 administrator Judith Enck to the Army Corps of Engineers - in which she outlines a variety of concerns EPA has, including the potential effects of the development on endangered corals and sea turtles and concerns about the water demand and wastewater generation of the completed project and how that might impact the island's infrastructure.
The EPA also states in the letter that any water infrastructure facilities would require additional evaluation and discharge permits under the Clean Water Act.
Other concerns the agency outlines in the letter include the potential for significant water quality degradation, as well as solid waste management.
"After reviewing all the available data for the project, considering its large scale, and hearing from other resource agencies as well as from the developers, EPA remains concerned that the proposed Amalago Bay Resort will result in significant impacts to aquatic resources of national importance, and therefore continues to recommend that a DA permit for the project not be issued at this time," Enck wrote in the letter, referring to the Army Corps of Engineers permit.
The Southeast Regional Office of the NOAA Fisheries Service did not have a response to Daily News inquiries on Tuesday afternoon.
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