Jan. 17, 2003 – Commercial development can provide an economic shot in the arm for the territory, but it also can wreak havoc on the islands' fragile ecosystems. With that in mind, the St. Croix Environmental Association is taking a proactive approach to development, specifically near salt ponds.
The organization announced on Friday that it is funding an intensive ecological study of Southgate Pond that will aid in planning for the property's development.
SEA signed a contract worth more than $100,000 on Friday with the Coast and Harbor Institute of Woods Hole, Massachusetts, for the study of some 100 acres it owns surrounding Southgate Pond.
Woods Hole professor Arthur Gaines will head up the study, which is expected to take a year. Via a telephoned press conference on Friday, Gaines told reporters on St. Croix that the study focuses on plants and animals in and around the salt pond and the best ways to protect them.
"SEA discovered last year that we don't know nearly enough about the impacts that are occurring at salt ponds," SEA's executive director, Bill Turner, said.
The land at Southgate, worth $2.2 million and zoned for waterfront recreation, was donated to SEA in 2000. Turner said possible plans for development include constructing stands for bird watchers, nature trails and camping platforms to create a sustainable nature park.
"People hear the word 'development' and think of a five-star resort," Turner said. "We believe development comes in different shapes and forms."
Gaines said the information obtained by the study will be disseminated throughout the scientific community for use in addressing development issues for similar ecosystems. "Part of what we're doing is coming up with a realistic, economically viable management plan for a specific area on St. Croix — but, by extension, any other salt pond area," he said.
Turner said the project is not aimed at securing a Coastal Zone Management permit or infringing on the duties of the Planning and Natural Resources Department. The objective, he said, is to help educate SEA's own constituency and others about development in salt-pond areas.
"If people genuinely care about the environment," Turner said, "the data will help them in the future."

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