About a dozen residents, including architects and environmentalists, gathered for a public meeting at the DPNR conference room at Cyril E. King Airport on Monday evening to discuss revising the CZM Act, which CZM Director Jean-Pierre Oriol said hasn’t been completely revised since its inception in 1978.
According to Oriol, the department believes now is a good time for revisions since the economy has slowed and they’re receiving less applications for permits. “We felt that expertise in the private community will benefit us on things we’re not privy to on an everyday basis,” Oriol said. “We’re asking for specific and general recommendations.”
“We needed to put this in the public so we can discuss regulatory things we haven’t discussed,” he added, explaining residents should share thoughts on what they would like to see changed, including how they want regulations phrased.
Climate change proved to be a major concern as attendees noted that CZM hasn’t considered the environment in the past. Things like watershed, coral reefs and sea level were discussed.
Jason Budsan, president of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, said the department needs to institute regulations to avoid runoff into the ocean. He pointed out the recent bad weather, saying every drop that goes downhill damages the reefs.
“Any impact that erosion has on resources should be looked at,” Budsan said. “We are on an island. Everything that has an impact at the top of the hill affects the bottom of the hill.”
Resident Robert deJongh blamed deteriorating coastlines on the permit process for developers. Coastal sites that are easy to develop are vanishing and developers are becoming less experienced, he said, explaining that a special process needs to be established specifically for examining runoff.
Oriol said that CZM is currently reviewing Puerto Rico’s coral protection laws so the Virgin Islands can implement something similar. The division is also looking at ways to protect low areas like Charlotte Amalie against the rising sea level, he said.
The CMZ act is not a conservation act, but it is a sustainable development act, Oriol said. The department’s primary role is a “regulatory watershed idea of sustainability,” he added, noting that they have not done extremely comprehensive studies on it.
Budsan went on to list a range of suggestions geared towards protecting the environment. He said CZM should avoid development on small islands and rugged coasts, since those are sensitive areas; it should also establish buffer zones, address areas of their codes that don’t consider ghuts and look at the number of feet as opposed to levels when it comes to the height of buildings.
“Tourists come here for the natural beauty,” said resident and architect Jon Euwema. “What happens if we destroy that? When you destroy that, you destroy your economy as well.”
Oriol said residents at the meeting on St. John last week also posed several questions about whether or not the two-tier system will be adjusted. At the time, the system will remain as it is, he said.
“I know a lot of people are in favor of erasing the line. From an administrative point of view, it wouldn’t work because our program receives a set amount of funding from federal grantors and we do not receive any general funds money,” said Oriol, noting the difficulty in maintaining a program extending into tier two.
The division’s legal counsel, Winston Brathwaite, said that this is only the beginning of the process of revising the CZM Act as the department would like to get more input from stakeholders before they present their ideas.
After they compile ideas, Brathwaite said CZM plans to revise language based on suggestions by September, review that draft by November, and then present it to the 30th Legislature by March 31, 2013.
“This about us listening and hearing what you’ve got to say,” Brathwaite said.