July 30, 2004 – Territorial Court Judge Edgar Ross ruled against Golden Gaming on Thursday in the developer's bid to circumvent the Coastal Zone Management system and win court permission to build a $150 million casino and resort complex near Great Pond, which environmentalists describe as an important wetland.
Ross said he would not act to bar the St. Croix Coastal Zone Management Committee from ruling on Golden Gaming's bid to build the 290-acre resort. He said the developer must first go before the Board of Land Use Appeals before taking its case to court.
Las Vegas-based Golden Gaming was trying to avoid defending the proposal before the CZM committee by attempting to obtain a permit to use the land through the courts, Assistant Attorney General Mark Hodge said.
Environmental groups believe the appeals board would turn down the development plan because it fails to provide for the protection of endangered wildlife in the area, according to Carlos Tesitor, chair of the St. Croix Environmental Association and the V.I. Conservation Society.
Golden Gaming, doing business in the territory as Golden Resorts, was awarded a permit to develop the land by default in May because the CZM committee did not rule on the application within 30 days. (See "Golden Resorts Gets Its CZM Permit by Default".) However, the committee rescinded the default decision last month, saying that because of other agreements the clock had not started ticking on the 30-day limit.
Meantime, the Casino Control Commission on Tuesday granted Golden Gaming a six-month extension on its "statement of compliance" that carries with it the reservation of one of the two Casino II licenses allowed by law for St. Croix. The commission had initially reserved the license to Golden Gaming in October 2001 for two years. (See "Casino License Reserved for 2 Years for Golden".)
One commission member, Lloyd McAlpin, said on Tuesday that he voted for the extension because Golden Gaming had sued the CZM committee and that resolving that case could take a while. (See "Golden Gaming Casino Reservation Extended 6 Months".)
Golden Gaming maintains that since it was granted the permit by default, the commission has no right to take it away, the developer's attorney, Treston Moore, said.
Documents asking the Board of Land Use Appeals to uphold the default permit were filed on Friday, Moore said.
According to Tesitor, the application is sure to fail when judged on its merits.
The developers plan to build the resort, which also includes a golf course and a convention center, 50 feet from Great Pond. Carol Burke, who manages a bird sanctuary near the pond, said the waterway is home to thousands of birds that nest in the mangroves, including herons, egrets, and the white crown pigeon, which formerly was federally protected.
Green and hawksbill sea turtles, which are federally protected, nest on the nearby beach and feed on the seagrass in the bay, Burke said. She said development and human use of the land could negatively affect both environments.
The CZM Committee is scheduled to meet at 6:30 p.m. Monday in the Curriculum Center to reconsider the application on its merits.
Editor's note: Jean Etsinger also contributed to this report.
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