Senior officials at the Department of Interior have voiced concerns about Beal Aerospace’s proposal to build a rocket assembly plant on the shores of St. Croix’s Great Pond Bay.
At a meeting between St. Croix residents and Department of Interior officials Sunday night, Donald Barry, assistant secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said the conflict between Beal’s plans and the environmental concerns at Great Pond had become apparent to him after visiting the site.
"It was important for me to walk along the beach (Saturday) . . . to see what’s at stake there," Barry said. "After having been on the site, I’m very concerned about the project…"
Barry, who oversees the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the National Park Service, works directly under Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, who will be on St. Croix the next three days for the third annual Coral Reef Task Force Conference.
Just offshore of Beal’s proposed site is what one Fish and Wildlife Service official has called "the best example of coral reefs in the USVI."
Sunday’s meeting was requested by organizers of the People’s March. The group was organized to protest the Beal-V.I. government land exchange at Great Pond Bay and to voice concerns about various governmental issues.
Along with the Beal issue, Sunday’s meeting focused on the memorandum of understanding signed early in October by Gov. Charles Turnbull and Secretary Babbitt. Along with economic provisions aimed at helping the territory solve its $100 billion debt, the memorandum contains a section on enhancing the islands’ natural resources.
Considering the memorandum’s call to preserve the territory’s coral reef system, People’s March spokesman Raymond "Usie" Richards said it was important for Interior officials to understand the governor’s "hypocritical policies" concerning the Beal deal.
Richards pointed to a letter written in January to Beal by a FWS field supervisor that recommended the project be moved to an area near St. Croix’s industrial zone. The letter, Richards said, was also sent to Turnbull.
"While we recognize the efforts of the Fish and Wildlife Service to make clear their concerns to Andrew Beal, we also recognize that Governor Turnbull was made aware of these concerns…," Richards said. "We believe such action demonstrates Turnbull’s disregard for both the Virgin Islands and United States laws, while he acts wantonly to pursue the goals of big business."
While Barry noted that there is a permitting process for projects such as Beal’s, he said he was "skeptical" about its chances of gaining approval at a site like Great Pond because of Endangered Species Act and Clean Water Act issues.
Barry called it the "right project in the wrong place" and said an alternative site could be found closer to the island’s industrialized area.
"We need to redouble our effort to work with Beal to find a better place," he said.
Karen Kovacs, senior counsel for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, said that language in the memorandum that speaks about the local and federal government exchanging submerged lands and coral reefs is preliminary. Kovacs also voiced concern about the Beal project, saying there is the possibility for "serious environmental degradation."
Meanwhile, Danny Aranza, director of the Office of Insular Affairs, said the memorandum was meant as a "helping hand" to the V.I. government. Aranza said that because he is from Guam, another U.S. territory, he understands the concerns of the people in the Virgin Islands.
"In no way was the MOU intended to be a dictate to the Virgin Islands," he said.


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