March 15, 2004 – Change is in the wind in Coral Harbor and boaters need to take note, the Planning and Natural Resources Department's enforcement chief, Lucia Francis, said at a meeting Monday in the Emmaus Moravian Church Fellowship Hall that attracted nearly a hundred boaters and land residents..
St. John Administrator Julien Harley put it this way: "For a long time, you've been enforcing your own rules. You've had a free run. Now we're trying to do things more orderly."
For starters, Francis was firm that all boats must have marine sanitation devices for human waste, usually referred to as holding tanks. And they must not empty them in Coral Harbor.
Instead, they must go three miles out into international waters or sail for at least three hours to the closest pump-out station, at American Yacht Harbor in Red Hook on St. Thomas, to get rid of their waste.
"It's like driving from New York to Washington, D.C., to buy vegetables or flush our toilet," Coral Bay resident Angela Ebner said. She said that while she'd like to obey the law and have clean water to swim in, she doesn't see any easy solution to the problem.
Francis's response was that nothing in life is easy.
Coral Bay resident Peter Muilenburg, who owns a charter boat, suggested boaters could band together to hire a pump-out vessel. Another boater suggested the community raise money to be matched by the government to build a pump-out station. Harley said such a move is possible, but the Legislature would have to appropriate the money.
Some boaters took offense when Francis accused them of wrecking the harbor, but she replied that she has seen raw sewage coming out of a boat near the shore. "Isn't that a problem?" she asked.
Francis also said that the estimated 30 to 40 boats moored in Johnson Bay must move. Options include relocating to Cruz Bay, Great Cruz Bay or Chocolate Hole, all located at the western end of St. John, but Coral Harbor would be the location of choice for most boaters.
However, "there's no room!" was the thunderous response to this suggestion.
Francis said about a hundred boats have legal moorings in Coral Harbor, but a boater said there are at least 250 boats in the bay.
Several boaters said that if DPNR got rid of the derelict boats, there would be more room. Francis said money is tight, but the department is hoping to clear them out by the start of hurricane season in June.
Some boaters complained that they had paid for moorings in Johnson Bay, but Francis said that was an error on the part of DPNR staff. Those boaters will have to find new mooring locations but will not have to pay additional fees, she said, adding: "If you were erroneously issued a permit, we will work with you to relocate."
Boaters also wondered where they would park their cars and where they would tie up their dinghies if they are forced to move to Coral Harbor. The dinghy dock is often filled, and the shoreline is chock-a-block with cars.
Francis suggested that boaters who want to remain in Johnson Bay apply to the DPNR's Coastal Zone Management Division for a minor water permit. That permit would need legislative approval and would carry a fee separate from the mooring permit fee.
Several boaters also noted that a plan to designate Coral Harbor as an Area of Particular Concern indicates that Johnson Bay allows moorings. Francis said that, too, was an error and that the plan has not been finalized.
Francis asked boaters become members of an ad hoc committee that will deal with Coral Bay boating issues.
She didn't address the department's announcement last week that it would begin issuing citations on Monday for numerous infractions, but she said after the meeting that the department will begin by issuing warnings. Previously, the department issued notices of violation, a lengthier process.
Fines for the citations range from $5 to $1,000. Francis said the fine schedule is posted at the Territorial Court building.
She said DPNR will invite the U.S. Coast Guard to an April 19 meeting in Coral Bay to clarify matters regarding marine sanitation devices. The place and time are to be announced.
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