Home News Local news SENATE PANEL SAYS NO TO BENNER BAY PROJECT

SENATE PANEL SAYS NO TO BENNER BAY PROJECT

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Aug. 21, 2001 – A Senate committee rejected a Coastal Zone Management permit for a 165-slip marina and hotel complex on St. Thomas's East End on Tuesday, despite the argument of the developers that it would be a key to revitalizating the territory's charter boat industry.
Opponents of the $30 million Benner Cove Marina project, including the Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John and the League of Women Voters, said the project would devastate an area of mangroves and one of the last remaining natural salt ponds on St. Thomas.
They cited scientific findings that the area is a vital nursery for juvenile fish, a nesting area for dozens of species of birds and an important settling pond to prevent pollution from damaging coral reefs in the area.
The proposal called for dredging the salt pond at Benner Bay to a depth of 8 feet and installing the 165 boat slips. Construction plans included an 85-room hotel, 64 apartment units, a restaurant and other amenities.
Irv Rubin, managing partner of the developer, Benner Cove Associates, said the project would cater to the charter boat industry, which has been in decline on St. Thomas for more than a decade. He told the senators that the construction plans would minimize the environmental impact and that the project would create more than 200 jobs.
"This marina would enable us to compete more aggressively with Tortola," Rubin said in reference to the thriving charter boat business in the British Virgin Islands. "This is a very win-win proposition."
But Sen. Alicla "Chucky" Hansen countered, "Destroying our natural resources is not the answer."
All seven members of the Planning and Environmental Protection Committee — Sens. Adelbert Bryan, Donald "Ducks" Cole, Roosevelt David, Adlah "Foncie" Donastorg, Carlton Dowe, Hansen and Celestino White — voted against granting a CZM permit for the project.
The senators followed the recommendation of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett in doing so. They cited environmental objections as well as questions as to whether Benner Cove Associates had standing to apply for a permit to develop an ar aq ea that is owned by the trust of William and Priscilla Clarenbach, now deceased.
The developers had received a CZM permit to develop the marina in 1985, and then-Gov. Alexander A. Farrelly approved it. But the Senate denied the permit in 1987, an action that led to a long legal battle. Finally, last year, U.S. District Court Judge Raymond Finch ruled that the developers had not received a fair hearing before the Legislature and ordered that a new hearing be held on the matter.
In the years since the permit was first approved, scientific findings have emphasized the importance of salt ponds and mangrove lagoons to a healthy marine environment, and the mangrove lagoon at Benner Bay area has been designated a marine sanctuary.
Some opponents of the project, noting that boat chartering has been in decline locally since the 1980s, questioned the need for another marina. They noted the development of marinas at Red Hook and just west of the salt pond at Benner Bay, as well as the proposed rebuilding of the Yacht Haven Marina at Long Bay, saying those marinas could meet any additional needs of the industry.

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