On Tuesday August 21, at 10 am, in the Earl B. Ottley Hall of the Legislature
Building, St. Thomas, V. I., the Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection, chaired by Senator Cole, will reconsider a 1985 CZM permit for development of a marina in the pond at Benner Bay (Benner Bay Pond, also called Compass Point Pond).
First, a brief description of what the marina project will involve:
a) approximately 1,000 cubic yards to a depth of 8 ft. will be dredged from
Benner Bay Pond;
b) the dredge material will be used to construct an island in the middle of the former pond basin;
c) an entrance channel will be opened to Benner Bay;
d) a marina complex which would include a 165 slip docking facility and fueling station will ring the edge of the island and the outer edge of the
dredged basin;
e) 85 room mariner's inn will be linked to a 64 one bedroom complex, all water
f) also included in the proposal are a swimming pool, a full service trade building, a tennis court, and
g) a 33,500 gallons per day sewage treatment plant.
As mitigation for loss of red mangroves, red mangrove slips would be planted in areas around the marina basin edges, and the developer would preserve the
northwest corner of the pond for wading birds.
To the casual observer, the pond in question may be nothing more than a smelly, shallow water eyesore that at times may become almost completely dry. So, why preserve it? Why not have a marina there?
The marina would completely destroy the function of the salt pond at Benner Bay as a catchment basin for storm water run-off and sediment collection. It would also destroy, or severely curtail an important feeding area for many species of birds and a potential nursery ground for fish and other marine animals. Such habitats suitable for wildlife are becoming alarmingly scarce in the Virgin Islands, indeed, throughout the Caribbean – just look at Tortola’s south shore for a nearby example!
In the Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Act, salt ponds are specifically mentioned as habitats that should be protected from development unless it can be shown that the development will not result in irreparable harm, or that the
environmental benefits will actually result in enhancement.
And yet, at the executive (decision) meeting of the St. Thomas Committee of the CZM Commission, the environmental impacts of the proposed Benner Cove project were not adequately addressed. Although two members were new, and a third had not been present at the public hearing on the project, the transcript of the public hearing was not available. The applicant was invited to present a description of the project that was 12 pages long and was given the opportunity to respond to questions from the Commissioners.
No information was solicited from the five Fish and Wildlife biologists or any other individuals who had submitted strong objections to the project.
After a similar one-sided consideration of the complaints against the CZM permit brought by the League of Women Voters, the Board of Land Use Appeals upheld the CZM permit. However, when the permit (now revised and renumbered CZT-27-87W) was considered by the 17th Legislature, in two hearings in the
summer of 1988, some of the true value of the pond’s function and potential
reached the sympathetic ears of a sufficient number of senators to result in a
denial of ratification.
Now, 13 years later, the 24th Legislature is forced (by court order) to give the permit another hearing.
There is a lot of pressure on the Legislature to ratify the Benner Cove Marina permit, to come down on the side of perceived economic benefits and ignore the serious adverse environmental impacts that are certain to result from the replacement of the salt pond by a marina basin.
The League of Women Voters will ask the 24th Legislature to note that, after
years of neglect and sometimes deliberate tampering with its natural functions by both owners and the Government of the Virgin Islands, the Benner Cove site was designated a Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary in 1992.
In his order, then DPNR Commissioner Roy Adams noted that the pond, "although degraded, remains one of the most important wildlife areas on the island of St. Thomas; that this Pond is used by numerous bird species and that it forms part of the natural heritage of the United States Virgin Islands."
On August 21, the League will urge the PEP Committee to deny approval of the Benner Cove Marina permit. The League will recommend instead, that the salt pond and its surrounding wetlands be restored to its natural state. We
fervently hope that many others will testify in defense of the preservation of
the pond.
Senator Cole’s office telephone number is 693-3523. If you want more
information, feel free to call me, at 775-5674.


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