Dec. 19, 2002 – The ever-controversial Crown Bay marina development project took a leap forward on Wednesday as the Port Authority board voted to issue about $18 million in non-taxable bonds to expand the dock, and another $17 million in taxable bonds to construct a retail center on the adjacent property.
But it was a tentative leap forward, as the project is being challenged before the Board of Land Use Appeals by the League of Women Voters. The organization is claiming that the Coastal Zone Management permit the Port Authority was granted for the retail part of the project is inadequate, and is questioning the adequacy of an environmental assessment of the project. A hearing before the appeal board is scheduled for Jan. 10. (See "Crown Bay appeal pre-hearing is legal debate".)
Erva Denham, LWV president, said on Thursday that the league would be issuing a statement shortly.
executive director, and Donald Mills, VIPA attorney, were not returned Thursday.
Crown Bay development plans have dominated local marine news for the last two years. In March, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull called a halt to an agreement between the authority and two major cruise line companies, Carnival Corp. and Royal Caribbean Cruises, which had committed to investing $31 million to expand the dock and develop the shopping center. The governor said at the time: "I believe it is important that the V.I. maintain full control of its harbor and harbor development."
After Turnbull's edict, VIPA decided to develop the project on its own, rather than partner with The West Indian Co., as Turnbull had wanted. VIPA received Senate approval of a major CZM permit in July for expansion of the Crown Bay dock. The project has been estimated to take about 15 months to complete, once construction starts.
St. Thomas bunkering approved
In other action on Wednesday, the board granted permission for cruise lines and shipping companies to refuel their ships from barges at the Crown Bay dock. According to a VIPA release, officials from Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines have been lobbying the board for some time to allow bunkering on St. Thomas, because it is more cost effective. Cruise ships that call on St. Thomas normally fuel in Miami or Puerto Rico.
Board member Leslie Milliner said the bunkering will be a big plus for St. Thomas, as it will lure more shipping traffic to the territory. Cruise ships now will be able to do their provisioning and bunkering in one destination, which gives St. Thomas an edge over other Caribbean islands which don't provide those services, he said.
The decision wasn't easily arrived at. According to Thursday's Avis newspaper, the board vote was 3-2 in favor. Finch, who is not a board member and cannot vote, said the decision is risky. According to the newspaper account, he said: "Bunkering in St. Thomas and St. John is just one more step that the cruise lines are making to further convert our destination into more of a home port."
The problem, Finch said, is that cruise tourists tend to spend less money in a home port and more in destination calls. Plus, he said, "there is not a single cruise ship that will not visit St. Thomas because bunkering is not available. They are going to come regardless of whether bunkering is there or not."
Finch's concern is the potential of an oil spill. "If and when there is an oil spill in St. Thomas, it's going to be devastating to the economy," he warned.
Attorney General Iver Stridiron, a board member, said the chances of an oil spill "are slim at best." He said the cruise lines would have to have booms completely surrounding their ships before any fuel could be released. "We're talking about a multibillion-dollar industry," he said, "They can't afford the notoriety of spilling fuel in any harbor anywhere in the world."
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