Oct. 13, 2003 Two Virgin Islanders were singled out Sunday night for special recognition of their contributions over the 25 years since the inception of the U.S. Virgin Islands Coast Zone Management program. The original art created by local artist Peter "Pita" Gonzales to be used on the 25th anniversary commemorative poster was also unveiled at the celebration held at Government House.
Environmental activist and historian Kenneth Olasee Davis, and Darlan Brin, executive director of the V.I. Port Authority, were both given the President's Distinguished Service Award at the silver anniversary celebration of the Virgin Islands CZM program.
Davis, a Charlotte Amalie High School graduate who went on to earn bachelor's and master's degrees and who is currently a PhD candidate, accepted the award, saying he had four or five boxes of plaques and awards at home, but still goes to bed many nights "crying" as he grapples with the multitude of environmental issues facing the territory.
Davis, who has spent his adult life "trying to raise the people's consciousness about the environment," said it was crucial to educate people, especially children, to make the connection between their lives and the environment to create a bond with the resources.
"Imagine coming to St. Thomas without a Magens Bay," Davis said.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull echoed Davis's remarks, saying tourists whose money ultimately "drives" the economy won't come to "see a concrete island."
Brin, who was honored in part for being one of the authors of the V.I.'s CZM Act signed into law Oct. 12, 1978, did not attend Sunday night's celebration.
Keynote speaker Eldon Hout, director of the Office of Ocean and Coastal Resource Management at the National Oceanographic Atomospheric Administration (NOAA), said the CZM Act of 1978 addressed the "very prickly question of how to balance out local, state and national interests" while also finding solutions that conserve land and water resources but allow for economic development.
A big benefit of the program, Hout said , is money. Since 1978 NOAA has pumped $17 million into the territory to collect remote data, monitor the reefs and support travel for individuals to training sessions and seminars, he said.
More important program benefits are the "things that didn't happen," Hout said, such as dredged material that was not deposited onto sea grass beds, or hotels that were not built or were reconfigured to meet stricter environmental standards.
Dean Plaskett, commissioner of the Planning and Natural Resources Department, which has oversight of the CZM program, said the CZM commission has been busier than ever before.
Plaskett said when he assumed his position in 1999, an average of seven applications for major permits were reviewed per year. In the last year, Plaskett said, the commission reviewed 21 applications. Five were approved, one was denied, one was withdrawn and 14 remain in various stages of review.
The mission statement in the program booklet says the CZM program was "established to manage, enhance, protect and preserve our coastal resources, while reducing conflict between competing land and water uses."
Commission member and St. John Administrator Julien Harley, master of ceremonies for the event, said he wanted to see the CZM's purview expanded to include the entirety of the islands. "What happens in the hills eventually goes down to the coast."
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