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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, June 26, 2022


The V.I. Department of Planning and Natural Resources has ordered AT&T of the Virgin Islands to dismantle a massive breakwater the department says was built illegally this year in Magens Bay and has fined the company $100,000.
The stone breakwater, measuring 100 feet long by 35 feet wide, was built without permission or a permit, according to DPNR.
But a St. Thomas man who owns two acres and a house just above where the breakwater was built said that earlier this year he called AT&T, DPNR and the Coastal Zone Management Commission about the construction.
Brian Postle said Wednesday each of them told him AT&T had a permit to do the work. He said he also called the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John, which told him "they would look into it."
CZM did issue a permit in 1991 to allow "AT&T to install seven fiber-optic underwater communication cables seaward of parcels No. 2,3 and 4 Est. Peterborg," according to the Notice of Violation and Assessment from DPNR dated Aug. 1, 2000.
Based on a request from AT&T dated Aug. 19, 1999, for permission to "repair the ocean ground connection which services the six underwater fiber optic cables," the company was given permission to make the repairs, the notice said.
But the letter on Aug. 25, 1999, from DPNR Commissioner Dean C. Plaskett granting permission was conditioned "to exclude any additional work on the site," according to the notice.
Julita de Leon, legal counsel for DPNR, said the Army Corps of Engineers discovered the breakwater during a routine inspection "around the island."
De Leon verified that AT&T had no permit or permission to build anything at the site.
Postle said Carl Howard, a CZM inspector, was one of those who told him AT&T had a permit. Yet Howard is named in the notice as one of the inspectors who on July 19, 2000, "visited the AT&T site …based on a report from the Army Corps of Engineers." Only then was there "found erected on the shoreline; one large stone breakwater."
Postle also said he spoke with "a Mr. Freeman" at AT&T. The Aug. 25 letter from Plaskett was addressed to Dexter Freeman.
Postle said the breakwater has "taken my beach away." And where there was only fine white sand, a layer of small, sharp stones now carpets the ocean floor next to the shore.
Postle bought the house and land in 1996 after Hurricane Marilyn, he said, and has been rebuilding the property. He said he first began to wonder what was going on below his property when he started to see trucks from AT&T parked on his road and workers going down the path to the beach below, known informally as "Platform Beach."
At first, Postle said, he thought "they were doing electrical work." In his numerous phone calls, he said he was told it was "maintenance" work and that AT&T had a permit for it.
"I didn't think much of it," he said, "but then when they brought in the barges and the backhoe, I started making phone calls."
Postle said he watched as large rocks that form the breakwater were brought in on barges.
He is not the only one who said the shoreline has changed in the area. Nick Pourzal, who along with his wife, Karen, owns Platform Beach, said Wednesday that after a long absence he and his wife returned there a few weeks ago.
"The beach is smaller," Nick Pourzal said, "and when I walked in, the sand was not the same. It was rocky. Something is wrong. I had to go five feet into the water before the sand was normal again."
The Pourzals bought the property four or five years ago, he said, planning to build a house. They have not yet begun construction.
Dr. Boniface Abba, who owns the property adjacent to where the breakwater was built, said he thought "they had permission." Abba said he couldn't do anything because AT&T had the right-of-way.
Abba said he could not comprehend how work on the breakwater could have proceeded for months without DPNR's knowledge. "For four months they broke all those stones and nobody knew about it?" he said.
The large stones were brought in on barges often at night or very early in the morning, according to Postle.
Abba said he talked to the contractor who was working for AT&T when the construction first started and was told they were building the breakwater to protect cables in the area. He said AT&T, years before, had poured large areas of cement in the same area to protect the cables, but "it was washed away during (Hurricane) Marilyn."
Calls to AT&T and CZM Wednesday afternoon had not been returned as of publication.

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