April 8, 2005 – It took four hours for the St. Croix Coastal Zone Management committee to move on a motion to accept the modification to a permit and allow the V.I. Port Authority to commence work on the Ann E. Abramson Marine Facility pier. In the end John Beagles, committee chair, abstained from voting, while members Christian "Ollie" Christiansen and Tyrone Seales voted in the affirmative.
The vote allows VIPA to dredge the southern berth of the pier, removing approximately 20,000 cubic yards of material, some of which is debris and remove piling left from the original pier, which is protruding through the sea floor. VIPA can also dredge the north berth of the pier to remove 30,000 cubic yards of sand. Finally, the permit allows for the dredged material to be stored at the Gordon Finch molasses pier.
The committee placed the following conditions on the permit:
– Prior to commencement of work, CZM shall receive a water quality certificate from the division of Environmental Protection.
– Prior to commencement of work, VIPA shall obtain all other necessary federal and territorial permits including a joint Army Corps permit for both dredging and debris removal.
– CZM shall be notified at least 72 hours before work commences.
– The government, through DPNR division of CZM has the right to determine the disposition of all dredged material.
– Silt curtains/booms shall be used to enclose re-suspended sediments during dredging operations.
– VIPA is required to assume the cost and fees of independent environmental monitors selected by CZM.
Over 100 concerned citizens including Darlan Brin, VIPA executive director, members of the VIPA board, CZM staff and members of Team St. Croix and St. Croix Environmental Association, attended the meeting, which was held at the Educational Curriculum Center in Kingshill.
Beagles opened the meeting announcing that it was a decision-meeting and no public comment would be allowed. He said a call for written comment went out several weeks ago with a deadline of March 11. He said those comments would be read into the record later in the meeting. Committee member Dean Plaskett, DPNR commissioner recused himself from the meeting. Member Albert Hewitt was excused.
VIPA made its presentation to the committee, bringing up several testifiers to attest to the safety of the proposed dredging on the environment and outlining the precautionary measures they have put in place. Gordon Finch, former VIPA executive director, said he has been retained by VIPA to advocate for the dredging "because of the significance and urgency of the project."
Finch said three acres on the north side of the pier and two acres on the south side would be dredged. He said a digital terrain map showed the exact location of approximately 64 underwater pilings that will be removed. The pilings, remnants of the old pier, built in 1961, are made of steel, concrete or wood. The U.S. Coast Guard closed the south side of the pier to all vessels until the debris is removed.
Amy Dempsy, of Bioimpact, has been making environmental impact studies in the area of the pier since 1989. She assured the committee there would be little impact to the marine life. Dempsey said she has been monitoring marine life around the pier for several years and the dredging would take place 400 feet from those areas. There will be "less than 1 percent damage to coral life," she said. "I have a vested interest in this pier. If we start seeing impact, we will stop and modify our plan."
Victor Somme III, CZM director, read 21 letters and e-mails sent in from residents who wanted to comment on the permit process. Only two of the letters were in favor of the dredging. Two others, written by Olassee Davis and Liam Carr on UVI stationary, raised questions about many aspects of the project and its environmental impact. After the readings, Beagles said the opinions were not the opinion of the university. He did not say who advised him of that.
Beagles and the committee spent a considerable amount of time addressing the issues brought up in the letters asking the VIPA team for clarification.
In its report to the committee, the CZM staff found the proposed modification "will not alter or modify the scope, nature or characteristics" of the pier and is in "keeping with the purposes" of the existing permit which allowed the VIPA to expand the pier to accommodate larger vessels.
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