Home Commentary Op-ed COALITION URGES MORE PUBLIC SPACE AT LONG BAY

COALITION URGES MORE PUBLIC SPACE AT LONG BAY

0

All was not praise at the March 3 St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee hearing for the Yacht Haven restoration project. The Save Long Bay Coalition delivered a statement in strong opposition to that part of the project that has been leased to IN-USVI, the local subsidiary of the New York-based developer Insignia Nautica, by The West Indian Co.
The filled land at Long Bay
The history of the filled land at Long Bay is not covered in the IN-USVI environmental assessment report and is unknown to many Virgin Islanders.
In the spring of 1986, WICO, then an affiliate of the Danish-owned East Asiatic Co., was about to dredge in the St. Thomas harbor in order to fill in approximately seven acres in Long Bay. Because of the WICO claim that its treaty rights exempted it from the 1978 Coastal Zone Management Act, no major CZM application was submitted for the dredge-and-fill project.
The Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John and the League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands issued a detailed report which contested WICO's claimed rights as being long expired and void. With the addition of the St. Thomas Historical Trust, Virgin Islands 2000, and a number of individuals, the Save Long Bay Coalition was formed.
The coalition received such wide public support that the Legislature called a public hearing for June 26, 1986, a meeting which extended into late afternoon of the following day. The Legislature rescinded the act exempting WICO from the CZM process, but WICO won the ensuing legal challenges and was free to fill in the bay.
In spite of SLBC's failure to stop the dredging and filling of Long Bay, the organization played a significant role in persuading CZM to place limitations on the scale of WICO's grandiose 1991 master plan for Havensight and Long Bay. SLBC also was instrumental in convincing the V.I. government that it was not in its interest to allow a foreign-owned company to have such extensive control of its principal harbor. Then, after the purchase of the WICO holdings by the government in 1993, the coalition kept up the pressure on WICO to deny leases to several companies that insisted on proposals entirely unsuitable for the St. Thomas harbor.
Unfortunately, WICO gave in to IN-USVI.
WICO land at Long Bay is trust land
While it is true that the 1919 treaty between the Danish-owned WICO and the U.S. government granted the company ownership of any filled lands in the St. Thomas harbor, this land is trust land; it belongs to the people. According to the CZM Act, trust lands, or other submerged or filled lands, are to be developed "only if there is no feasible alternative" or if it "will clearly serve the public good" and "will enhance the existing environment" (V.I. Code, Title 12, Chap. 21, Sec. 911(c)).
The community park component of the Yacht Haven restoration project involves a mere 2.2 acres of land that is owned by the Housing Parks and Recreation Department, and is located in the least desirable portion of the site. At one end is Veterans Drive, with its noise and fumes; at the other end is an open, stagnant drainage ditch. Plans call for the park to have a small amphitheater and a tot lot with a wading pool and some picnic tables.
The plans provide for the filled land leased from WICO, approximately 7.3 acres, to be crammed with commercial projects. A local vendors area is at the back of the site, well away from the eyes of tourists, behind a large "theme attraction" consisting of, among other features, a pool with a beach sand and a sugar mill at the entrance of a swim-through grotto full of tropical fish. There are to be several "ethnic" restaurants. (In all, the project is to have seven restaurants.)
According to the drawings submitted with the environmental assessment report, there will be two buildings with 15,008 square feet of marina retail space. Of the 94,123 square feet devoted to "general," non-marine retail space, 39,814 will be associated with the new hotel. The remaining 54,309 square feet of retail will be on the WICO portion of the site. Of this, 90 percent will be on the ground floor of six buildings, the upper levels of which will have 33,525 square feet devoted to office space.
Are there not empty office spaces all over St. Thomas? We believe that non-marine-related business offices do not belong on prime waterfront land. How many more gift and leisure apparel shops do we need? These shops will offer merchandise also available in Havensight Mall, Port of $ale Mall and downtown Charlotte Amalie, where dozens of shops are struggling to survive. Most of the mall shops are closed on days when no cruise ships are in port. Store clerk jobs will be part time a good portion of the year.
We are curious as to why WICO strongly objected to the commercial shopping center at the Port Authority's Crown Bay cruise ship port on the basis that it would provide unfair competition to shop owners in town and at Havensight, but finds it acceptable to lease commercial space right next door to Havensight and Port of $ale?!
A cultural and recreational park
How might the filled land at Long Bay be developed so as clearly to contribute to the public good and enhance the existing environment? What is the feasible alternative of which the law speaks? To the Save Long Bay Coalition, the answer is obvious: Develop the entire filled land portion, or at least two-thirds of it, as a public cultural and recreational park.
Charlotte Amalie is one of the few harbor cities in the Caribbean and under the U.S. flag (if not the only one) that has not utilized waterfront revitalization as the impetus for urban economic recovery. Our waterfront has been lost to activities related to tourists, shopping and offices. Long Bay represents a final opportunity to provide the waterfront development that comports with the diverse activities that can bring economic enhancement to the area.
In July 1994, in response to WICO's request for proposals, SLBC, augmented by representation from Paul M. Pearson Gardens and calling itself The Long Bay Future Group," submitted a plan for the development of Long Bay. The plan was based on the traditional use of the land before it was enlarged by the dredge-and-fill project of 1986.
The SLBC proposal urged that there be a promenade from the cruise ship dock to the end of the Long Bay waterfront. We thank the IN-USVI designers for including that feature. In addition, however, the coalition called for a combination of some or all of the following uses on the entire 7.5 acres of the Long Bay filled land: a metered parking lot, benches and picnic tables, jogging and walking trails, a local arts and crafts vendors' pavilion, a harbor history museum, a flexible stage mini-theater, a local cuisine pavilion, a fishing pier and marina, domino tables, a tot lot with wading pool, tennis courts, a bowling alley or skating rink, and a services pavilion with postal station, ATM banking, public telephones, security and a first-aid station.
Funding assistance is available for waterfront renewal projects.
SLBC welcomes the restoration of the hotel and looks forward to Long Bay full of yachts from all over the world. However, we have urged the St. Thomas CZM Committee to reject the almost totally commercial proposal for the filled land, and we support a recreational and cultural park.

Editor's note: St. Thomas environmental activist Helen Gjessing writes in this instance in her capacity as president of Save Long Bay Coalition Inc.
We welcome and encourage readers to keep the dialogue going by responding to Source commentary. Letters should be e-mailed with name and place of residence to source@viaccess.net.
Publisher's note : Like the St. Thomas Source now? Find out how you can love us twice as much — and show your support for the islands' free and independent news voice … click here.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here