Management of Submerged Lands not a Dry Topic

Oct. 17, 2005 – A. Winston Adams, a member of the St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee and chairman of the territory's CZM Commission, said that while the CZM Committee members deal with shoreline issues, its members must keep in mind that upland development impacts the submerged lands.
Adams made his remarks Monday as the 24th annual Submerged Lands Management Conference kicked off at the Westin Resort and Villas on St. John.
He told the Source that CZM works with builders, architects and developers to educate them about the need to protect the submerged lands that sit downhill from their construction project. He said topics have included new septic tank design.
Government House gubernatorial advisor James O'Bryan Jr. said that the territory must balance its need to develop with protection of the environment.
"The members of the Coastal Zone Management Commission must have the wisdom of Solomon and the back of an elephant," O’Bryan said.
Without development, O’Bryan said, the territory cannot provide opportunities for its residents, but noted that the "pressures are many."
O'Bryan said he often wonders how today's CZM Commission would deal with a problem that 19th-century officials faced. He said that they decided to remove a land bridge between Frenchtown, St. Thomas and Hassel Island to allow the harbor water to circulate to a stagnant area. This was done to reduce the mosquito population.
"One group would say ‘this is our heritage,’ but another says ‘get real, people are dying of malaria,’" he said.
CZM director Victor Somme III said that about 150 people registered for the event. However, only about 60 attended the Monday session. Somme said he expected more to show up for subsequent sessions. He said that some people from the Gulf Coast states who registered had to cancel after Hurricane Katrina hit.
Somme told the Source that CZM learned some important lessons in recent years. He said he and his staff were "floored" when the Legislature denied the renewal of a permit for the Grand Beach Palace hotel.
"We did not realize that labor issues made an impact on the Legislature not granting the permit," he said.
Somme said that when CZM held a hearing on the permit renewal application, very few people attended so the staff was not aware of problems.
The Grand Beach Palace hotel, which is now closed, fired much of its staff when it bought the property in 2004. The hotel is for sale.
Somme said the CZM staff had no environmental concerns about the dock renewal permit.
He said the division recently published a list of submerged land permits that need renewing to alert owners that they must comply. He said that in some cases, permit owners forgot to renew, but in other instances, the properties had new owners who did not know that had to renew permits.
Most of the conference sessions are technical and geared toward professionals.
At one Monday session, Shenell Gordon, a fisheries biologist at Planning's Fish and Wildlife Division, outlined the agency's program to develop artificial reefs used by divers.
"They support the local tourism industry and provide leisure for local residents," she said.
O'Bryan announced that St. John will receive an excellence award from Condé Nast Publications for being the "most appreciated and liked" island in the Caribbean.
The conference runs through Friday.

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