Public Works submits comprehensive proposal for waterfront renovations, street widening to CZM


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ST. THOMAS - The V.I. Public Works Department on Tuesday night asked the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee to approve a modified permit that will allow the department to continue efforts to launch a makeover of the island's Veterans Drive waterfront.

The committee approved the department's permit for the first phase of the renovation two years ago, when the application addressed solely the area from Long Bay Road to the V.I. Police Department headquarters.

The department presented a modified permit for the entire project at a CZM hearing Tuesday evening at the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Conference Room at King Airport.

The application now is comprehensive, including plans to also renovate the area from the police department to the Windward Passage Hotel, according to V.I. Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, though the design plans still are in the works.

The public has seven days to submit comment on the permit application, and the committee has 30 days to respond to the department's request, according to the CZM Committee Chairman Austin Monsanto.

Smalls said that he could not estimate the cost of the entire project until construction began.

"Each day that we're not in the construction phase, construction costs are growing," he said.

The department wants to have the first phase of the project, from Long Bay Road to the peninsula housing the V.I. Legislature, by the territory's centennial celebration in 2017. Smalls said he expects that the department will begin to put out bids for the first phase in the fall.

The goal of the project is to turn Veterans Drive into a safer, more attractive and more spacious roadway for both vehicular and pedestrian traffic, according to Smalls.

Public Works, which has partnered with local groups, such as the Downtown Revitalization Initiative and the St. Thomas-St. John Chamber of Commerce, to garner community support and input, plans to expand lanes from 9 feet to 11 feet; to expand the roadway from two lanes to four; to expand a promenade into the harbor; and to install a median along the drive.

The road between the Legislature and Fort Christian will become a pedestrian avenue, and a new road will wrap around the perimeter of the Legislature peninsula, completely redirecting traffic, according to the plans thus far, which have not conceptually changed since they first were presented in June 2012.

However, when Public Works first presented the plans, they lacked the details presented at Tuesday's meeting, according to John Woods of Jaredian Design Group and the lead architect on the project.

Woods described the reconstruction of past historical landmarks, such as the former boathouse on the waterfront and the former bastions that surrounded the fort. He also described the construction of a new amphitheater area built around a sculpture and fountain feature and the additional construction of various lookouts over the water.

The leaders on the project also have further considered how the heavy traffic flow along the waterfront will be redirected during road construction. Public Works first will widen the road by constructing a third lane, which will allow the department to shift traffic back and forth while working on the other lanes, Smalls said.

Widening of the roadway and of the planned tree-lined promenade, will require the department to dump about 8.6 acres of fill at the land's edge of the harbor, according to Amy Dempsey, president of Bioimpact, an environmental assessment firm in the territory that has been assisting with the project.

The project initially faced a number of environmental impact issues, though the project plan has been improved and now could result in the attraction of more sea life along the waterfront, Dempsey said.

The harbor, which already is an incredibly disturbed and polluted area, will be more protected when the department puts into place a drain system that is expected to collect much of the run-off that currently goes directly into the ocean, she said. However, the system will require diligent maintenance.

"Run-off into this harbor is tremendous," Dempsey said.

Bioimpact expects that filling the harbor will force the relocation of more than 3 acres of coral and more than an acre of high-quality sea grass. They will be transported to the nearby south side of Hassel Island, which Dempsey said has a better water quality.

More than 85 percent of the sea grass should survive the move, and more than 95 percent of the coral should survive, she said.

The CZM Committee expressed concerns about how the plans for the waterfront might interfere with other agencies' plans, several of which are expected to, or already have, come before the committee.

Smalls said that the department is communicating and collaborating with all of the entities that currently are working on projects that would affect the plans for the waterfront that the department and partnering organizations have.

To submit a comment about the St. Thomas waterfront proposal, contact the Division of Coastal Zone Management on St. Thomas at 774-3320.

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

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