July 16, 2001 – The Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John is supporting a petition being circulated by concerned residents aimed at protecting Botany Bay. The planned development of the 365 acres of secluded property on St. Thomas's West End has been steeped in controversy for months.
The former estate of Warren H. Corning was purchased last year by an investment group, Atlantic Land Holdings LLT, which plans to develop a 100-unit hotel, 80 villa residences, 80 time-share units and 40 houses at the site.
Environmentalists have said the land may be "St. Thomas's last pristine site."
According to a release from E.A.S.T., the petition calls upon the government to solicit public comment before allowing the development to go forward.
According to Carla Joseph, E.A.S.T. president, "Botany Bay was designated an Area of Particular Concern … by law quite some time ago, and the federal Coastal Zone Act requires that a management plan be developed in order to ensure its resources are protected. We are simply asking that the Legislature and CZM respect this territory's laws in order to ensure Botany Bay is protected."
Other concerns, Joseph said, are that the bay is home to some of the island's healthiest remaining coral reefs and is also a nesting site for endangered sea turtles.
It is rich with local history, too. Pottery and pre-Columbian artifacts from at least one Taino settlement, possibly dating as far back as 700 A.D., have been found on the property, along with ruins of a bridge, a step-down cistern and a sugar factory with a horse-drawn sugar mill.
Further, Joseph said, Planning and Natural Resources authorities "recently discovered what may be the graves of at least 100 slaves. This is our history and we want to see a management plan in place before the concrete is poured. Otherwise, Botany Bay could be lost to us forever."
Architect William Karr, who has represented Atlantic Holdings in previous meetings with environmental groups and government agencies, has said the developers plan to set 75 acres of the land aside as natural and archeological/historical preserves.
However, the League of Women Voters Planning and Environmental Quality Committee has charged that the environmental assessment report filed with the Planning and Natural Resources Department's Coastal Zone Management Commission had eight pages of deficiencies and was therefore not ready for public hearing.
The league committee also questioned why the developers had not applied for rezoning before filing the application with CZM.
A comprehensive DPNR study of Botany Bay in 1993 described the area as "an extraordinary example of relatively undisturbed ecosystems and habitats."
Petition signatures are being collected at Nisky Mail Boxes in Nisky Center and Caribbean Herbals at Tillett Gardens on St. Thomas; Connections in Cruz Bay on St. John; and the St. Croix Environmental Association office in Christiansted.


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