Oct. 12, 2005 The Ann E. Abramson cruise ship pier dredging project may have cleared its last hurdle with the Army Corps of Engineers approval of a V.I. Port Authority request to permit the dredging of the Frederiksted facility.
VIPA issued a press release Wednesday announcing the approval. The Port Authority will dredge the area around the pier to a depth of at least 35 feet. The dredging is expected to take several months, according to the release.
In the release, VIPA contends that one side of the pier "will continue to accept ships" while the other side is being dredged.
The southern end will be dredged first and then the northern end will be dredged. The dredging will allow the pier to accommodate larger vessels.
Sindulfo Castillo, chief of the Army Corps of Engineers office in Puerto Rico, confirmed in a telephone interview Wednesday that the permit was sent to VIPA for its review and signature. He said special conditions were attached to the permit to ensure that underwater environments and habitats are protected. Castillo said the dredging could begin when VIPA officials sign the documents and send them back to his office.
The VIPA governing board first voted to approve a resolution to seek requests for proposals for the Frederiksted dredging in December 2004 (See VIPA Approves Dredging Projects). Since then, the project has stopped and started, waiting for Coastal Zone Management approval and then stalling again for almost five months.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen said in a telephone interview Wednesday that she's been speaking to the Corps and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for several months trying to get them to speed up the process of approving the permit. One of NOAA's functions is to protect and preserve the food fishes of the U.S. coasts.
Christiansen said NOAA's interest was to insure that the natural resources located in and around the pier would not be impacted. "Once there was an adequate response [from the VIPA on these issues], the approval process should have been finished," Christensen said.
Bureaucratic snafu's were not the only hindrance to the dredging. Environmentalists have attempted to stymie the dredging project through letter-writing campaigns and by testifying at various meetings.
In July, the USVI Coalition for Sustainable Economic Development Inc., (VISED) a member of Team St. Croix, wrote a letter of support for the permit's approval. (See St. Croix Source story "Coalition Backs Dredging at Pier').
"The approval by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is essential in the revitalization process of the island of St. Croix and its economy, which is dependent upon a fully operational Port Frederiksted," the letter states.
"I am excited and elated that the project is moving forward," Lt. Gov. Vargrave Richards said on Wednesday. Richards said he has been in contact with Larry Evans, the Corps' regulatory division chief, getting daily updates on the progress of the permit approval.
Richards said Wednesday's announcement is the result of "constant prodding" by his office. He asked Evans to assign a local representative on a full time basis to address the territories' needs including Enighed Pond and other projects. Richards said Evans took the suggestion "under advisement."
Christensen said all of the efforts of her office, the Lt. Gov's office, and private citizens "made it happen."
She said, "We should look forward to a more expeditious response from the Army Corps of Engineers in the future."
Sen. Neville James, chair of the Economic Development, Planning and Environmental Protection committee , issued a press release on the development. James noted that VIPA made particular mention that ships would be able to dock at the pier while the dredging is ongoing.
"The critical part of this information is that the dredging will only impact one side of the pier at a time," James said, adding that the dredging process would allow ships to continue to berth at the Frederiksted pier if they so desire.
"With the rising price of fuel around the globe, and the proximity of St. Croix to the number one cruise port of St. Thomas, as well as the major Caribbean home porting facility of San Juan, Puerto Rico, St. Croix can prove to be pivotal for ships to visit and refuel in the Caribbean," James said.
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