Feb. 17, 2006 – Problems with the permitting process on both federal and local levels has delayed dredging around the Ann E. Abramson Pier on St. Croix, according to Darlan Brin, executive director of the Virgin Islands Port Authority, who spoke at an Economic Development, Planning, and Environmental Protection Committee meeting held Thursday on St. Croix.
Brin told senators that while the dredging was supposed to begin last September, it was difficult to acquire permits from the local Coastal Zone Management Commission, as well as the Army Corps of Engineers office in Puerto Rico.
Brin said the Army Corps of Engineers had to review permits for the project before the dredging began – a process he said took 10 months to complete.
Prior to that, Brin explained that St. Croix's CZM Commission was slow in approving a maintenance permit for the dredging. "According to CZM statutes, when you apply for a maintenance permit, you don't have to go through the whole permitting process, which includes having a public hearing on the project," Brin said.
"However, they did not want to approve the permit because they said it wasn't a maintenance project," Brin said. "The way the statute is worded leaves a lot of room for interpretation."
Robert O'Connor, chair of VIPA's board, piggybacked on Brin's statements by requesting that senators amend the statute to make clearer the definition of what constitutes a maintenance project.
However, Gordon Finch, consultant to VIPA, said he would not have approved the project either. "We've never dredged that area before, so to call it a maintenance project is untrue," he said.
"What really took our time up was getting approval from the Army Corps office in Puerto Rico," he said. "CZM had our permit approved by June 30, which I think is record timing."
Brin said that much of the equipment needed to perform the dredging was sent to states like Louisiana and Florida to help with Hurricane Katrina cleanup efforts, which further held up the dredging. "However, we have arranged for some of the equipment being used to dredge the area around the Crown Bay Marina to come over here on St. Croix until the pier is finished," he said.
In terms of recent progress made on the project, Brin said all permits are now in place, and VIPA is beginning to conduct various water quality and environmental impact studies to ensure that the area surrounding the Ann E. Abramson Pier is protected. "Those should all be complete by March 30, which is when we anticipate the dredging to begin," he said.
Brin said the entire project would cost $5.2 million, and would be completed in approximately four to five months. He also said the dredging would be handled by V.I. Cement and Building Products Inc., while Natural Resources Consultants Inc. would be conducting the water quality and environmental impact studies.
Finch gave senators other specifics about the project, which includes dredging both sides of the pier to a depth of -34 feet and a width of 200 feet to accommodate larger voyager class cruise ships.
"St. Croix's economy lost about $30 million in revenue when the cruise ship industry left the island," Finch said. "So this is something we have to do – we want our economy to come back."
Senator Terrence Nelson said cruise ships aren't coming back to St. Croix because citizens are "not taking pride" in the island itself. "We have to make our island look beautiful," he said.
Nelson said, "Look at some of the overgrown bushes at the roadsides. I've been trying to get someone to cut those for a long time, and nothing's happened yet. I don't think that the cruise ships aren't returning because they can't dock at the pier – they're not returning because the consumers don't want to come here. And that's what the industry is driven by – what the consumers want."
Senators questioned Brin briefly about the environmental impacts of the dredging, and whether opposition from local residents had also caused delays.
Brin said that while there has been opposition, it has not affected any progress made on the project.
"One of the reasons that the residents are so upset is that we are always doing projects like these on a piecemeal basis, without properly informing them about what's going on," Brin said. "What we need is a master plan for development in the area, with clearly defined boundaries about where we can and should develop."
Brin also outlined various projects planned for the Henry E. Rohlsen Airport on St. Croix, which includes additional work to the passenger terminal seat, security system improvements, a reimbursement agreement with the Federal Aviation Administration, the demolishing of the old Airport Inn Hotel and the redesigning of the passenger terminal. He said the total cost of all projects would be approximately $885,000.
When asked about the Gallow's Bay Marina development project, Brin said VIPA still had to complete a pier edge projection of the dock, which is estimated to cost $25,000.
Present at Thursday's meeting were Sens. Lorraine L. Berry, Craig W. Barshinger, Liston Davis, Pedro Encarnacion, Juan Figueroa-Serville, Norman Jn Baptiste, Nelson, and Usie R. Richards.
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