More than 40 residents of Water and Hassel Islands, live-aboard boaters from Elephant Bay, Coastal Zone Management committee members and government officials all agreed Wednesday that boaters and off-shore residents need safe access to the St. Thomas shoreline. And the V.I. government must be part of the solution.
A meeting, dubbed a "forum" by CZM chairman Albert Paiewonsky, was called by the CZM to gather information and testimony from people affected by the abrupt removal the dinghy dock at Crown Bay Marina.
Under new ownership, the marina management has severely limited dinghy access to the property, whose tenants include a grocery store, restaurant, laundry, marine supplies store and communications center.
The marina recently submitted an application to the CZM to drive pilings for four mega-yacht slips where the floating dinghy dock used to be.
Since the floating dock was removed, dinghy commuters now have to scramble up a concrete pier that is, according to Water Island resident Alex Randall, 5 feet above the water.
Paiewonsky said the CZM committee wanted to understand the issue as it considered the marina's request to add new pilings to the existing facility.
Marina principal Kosei Ohno, who attended the meeting, said one of his problems was skyrocketing insurance premiums due to the public liability involved in non-registered guests using the facility.
"I want people to be registered when they come in here," he said.
However, he said he would declare a moratorium for a period of time, apparently meaning that he would allow the residents to continue to use the concrete pier. He did not say, even after being questioned by V.I. Charteryacht League director Judy Knape, how long he would continue the moratorium or if he would put back the floating dock as Knape requested.
Under its current permit, Paiewonsky said, the marina is under no obligation to provide dinghy dockage for "outsiders" at the facility, adding that this was never an issue before the new owners took over. He said other marinas on St. Thomas have clauses in their permits requiring them to provide some public access.
Residents say they have always had access to the shore through the marina at Crown Bay – going back to when it was known as Shoreline Marina – and claim the new management's stance tests the territory's code that says residents must have access to the shoreline.
Paiewonsky said the legal counsel for the committee is researching the matter and he would make the decision known when it became available.
What began to surface as testimony continued in the two-hour meeting was that, despite the issue of public access, the marina could not be expected to accommodate the growing population of dinghy users.
Water Island resident Dick Weber said 300 house lots are now available on the island and four or five building permits are pending.
Randall said there are at least 35 dinghy users on the island that is separated from St. Thomas by a three-quarter-mile stretch of water.
Colette Monroe, also a Water Island resident, noted that the stretch of water – from the Water Island ferry dock to Crown Bay Marina – is a designated Federal Highway Administration maritime route, known as Route 306 M.
Paiewonsky, who expressed surprise at this information, could not say how it might affect changes the marina management wants to make, but said he would look into it.
Louis Hill, St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, said the designation might make FHA funds available to build a public dinghy dock.
Hill also said the V.I. Port Authority had agreed to make the shoreline west of the marina available for access, but said VIPA director Gordon Finch was adamant a few weeks ago that the Port Authority would not pay for construction of a dock.
According to Hill, the administration is in negotiation with the Port Authority to do just that. He said that although Finch was clear about how he felt, Hill wasn't sure what the Port Authority board would do.
Submerged land is held in trust by the Port Authority for the people, according to Paiewonsky.
And the people spoke Wednesday of a day when unobstructed shoreline stretched from Krum Bay all the way to Gregerie East Channel, when access was not an issue, criticizing the government for not having the foresight to see the problem coming.
Tom McCoy, a 33-year resident of Water Island and a ferry captain, said, "The V.I. government has to build something to service the entire community for life."
"I was brought here (into Crown Bay) as a child," Randall said. "Nobody told me I couldn't be here."


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