Feb. 13, 2002 – Coastal Zone Management Division officials within the Planning and Natural Resources Department have been talking for years about the need to protect some of the territory's most fragile ecosystems. On Tuesday night, they introduced a management plan they hope will turn talk into action.
The introduction of the management plan for St. Thomas's Benner Bay took place at the first of three public hearings scheduled on Areas of Particular Concern. There are 18 APC's in the Virgin Islands, and plans have now been developed for three of them — the other two being for the Christiansted waterfront and St. John's Coral Bay.
PNR officials say if the plans are approved, their implementation will affect the lives of people living and working in the area — how they build their roads, driveways and cisterns. But the officials also warned that the preservation of local wetlands, salt ponds and coastlines will never happen without public support.
The plan will apply to residents and businesses in the watershed area including Estates Bovoni and Nadir, Compass Point and portions of Estate Nazareth.
To implement the plan, PNR has proposed adopting the V.I. Territorial Emergency Management Agency model — a team approach bringing together representatives of government agencies, not-for-profit organizations and "other interested groups" to act as a management committee.
Consultant Claudette Young-Hinds said planners hope they can use a team approach to save the APC plan from the fate suffered by similar plans in the past. "Too often in government, we ask an agency to administer and operate and they don't have the resources to do either," she said.
The Benner Bay and Mangrove Lagoon management plan targets a heavily populated area at St. Thomas's southeastern shore. A report describing the plan states: "The combined watersheds support high- and moderate-density housing, paved roads/driveways, sewage treatment plants, and a multitude of different businesses. There are present and emerging issues related to traffic, use conflicts, public safety, litter, sedimentation and erosion, flooding, visual pollution and other quality-of-life issues for which there has been little, if any, planning and response."
PNR coordinator Bill Rorher led the Tuesday night meeting at the Education Department Curriculum Center on St. Thomas. Using the VITEMA model, he said, responsibility for carrying out different portions of the plan would be parceled out among different government agencies. Problems related to litter or sewage treatment plants would be handled by the Public Works Department, for example. Community volunteer and other organizations such as the local American Red Cross chapter would take on such tasks as public relations and outreach on quality-of-life issues.
The idea sat well with the handful of residents who attended the meeting. Architect Doug White said he would like to see test areas set up to address some of the more critical needs in the Benner Bay area, instead of waiting for full implementation of the management plan. Quick action on some level is needed "so this document becomes a tool, not just a study that gets put up on a shelf somewhere," he said.
Judy Pierce from PNR's Fish and Wildlife Division expressed concern about how the plan would be enforced and suggested that there be "at least one dedicated enforcement officer to act in this area." Young-Hinds said there are provisions in the APC plan to hire enforcement officers, as well as ways to obtain federal funds to reduce financial strain on the V.I. government.
But more important, Young-Hinds said, the resource management plan provides compliance options for those who live and work in the area. This should make a difference, she said, in that people feel as if the government is forcing them to do things in an arbitrary way.
Copies of the Benner Bay/Mangrove Lagoon plan are available to the public at the University of the Virgin Islands library on the St. Thomas campus for the next 30 days. Rohring said he hopes people will take the time to review it and give CZM officials feedback concerning their questions and concerns.


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