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CZM Meeting to Decide Botany Bay Future

July 14, 2006 – A Coastal Zone Management Committee is expected later this month to render its final decision on Botany Bay Partners' proposal to build a $200 million resort on St. Thomas' West End.
The meeting will decide the project's two major CZM permits on the 365-acre property.
The project to develop St. Thomas' ecologically and archaeologically sensitive West End has had a contentious history from its first public hearing before the Department of Planning and Natural Resources more than five years ago.
At that meeting at Palms Court Harborview Hotel in November 2001, Botany Bay Partners proposed a $160 million development that would include a hotel, timeshare and condominium units and residential homes – the first such development announced for the island's far West End. More than 20 people testified at that hearing, and no one but the developers spoke in favor of the project.
In September 2002, the St. Thomas CZM Committee approved a major permit for the group, against the recommendations of its own staff, and amid stiff opposition from the Environmental Association of St. Thomas-St. John (EAST), the League of Women Voters, some senators and individual environmentalists.
In the meantime, in 2003, EAST filed an appeal of the permit approval with the Board of Land Use Appeals, contending that the developer failed to survey nearby beaches adequately to determine the development's potential impact on endangered wildlife. The appeal also questioned the ability of the government to monitor and regulate sedimentation and erosion at the site. The appeal was never heard (See "Appeal Of Botany Bay Permit in 'Holding Pattern'").
In 2004, Botany Bay Partners chose to relinquish that permit – which would have allowed it to build a resort then estimated at $169 million – saying it still planned to develop the property, but only for private residences.
Now, the group plans to build a $200 million resort, along with private dwellings, which are currently advertised on several local real estate sites.
Two CZM hearings were held in June on BBP's major permit applications. One seeks approval of a major land permit to build its proposed facility. The other is required for the project's planned reverse osmosis facility because of its intake and discharge lines into the bay.
The project has a new developer, Timbers Company of Colorado.
Current plans also call for nine two-story buildings with a total of 84 units. Developers also plan 16 two-story buildings, which would house 31 time-share units, along with various commercial hotel service buildings. Also planned is a service area, including a maintenance building, wastewater treatment plant, emergency generators and a 500,000-gallon cistern.
Plans include a 186-car parking lot for residents, with seven places set aside for visitors.
Carla Joseph, EAST president, said this week that while the new company's proposal is "an improvement" over the previous one, EAST still has issues.
"Based on what we looked at, it's an improved plan concerning historical archeological aspects. They really did a good job. The developers have proposed to make great strides in planning, protecting and preserving this area," Joseph said. "We are especially pleased with their Long Range Preservation and Mitigation Plan for the Preservation of Botany Bay. Working with the V.I. State Historic Preservation Office, we hope the objectives of the cultural resource plan will be achieved."
However, Joseph said, EAST has other concerns: "How are they going to deal with solid waste disposal? They have downplayed the impact as far as public transportation services and traffic congestion. There is one road to the West End. There is no functioning fire station in Bordeaux."
In a written statement to the CZM committee on the project, EAST questions the project's Environmental Assessment Report (EAR). "The potential for adverse impacts on the roads is not addressed in the EAR."
The statement continues to point out that, while large construction vehicles will be moving to and from the site during construction, the EAR "ignores potential roadway damage due to the weight of the vehicles. The traffic impact analysis does not adequately address the … cumulative impacts of the development on the existing roadway."
Donald Parris, Timbers Company Botany Bay project director, reached by phone Thursday, said he is aware of EAST's concerns. "These [issues] are important to us. We are investing a lot of money in this project. As far as the traffic moving to the site, we estimate it will not be more than 10 trips a day, most of them concrete trucks, and not at a heavily traveled time of day. I want to meet with the transportation people and find out what the bus and the car traffic is."
Parris was optimistic about the area getting a fire and police station operational. "I've spoken to Fire Department officers. They are painting the station and getting it ready. One police officer told me he lives on the West End and hopes to get stationed here."
The Bordeaux Fire Station has been an issue for years. Residents have had no immediate fire protection since 1999.
Parris said he doesn't know what the "magic number" of parking places would be. He said, "That's not in our understanding, a requirement."
He said, "The hard part is explaining that it is important to us to develop a special place on this pristine land."
He added the company's application details erosion and sediment controls to protect affected sea life. "Bill McComb, our project engineer, says sediment controls are a top priority," Parris said, adding that although he hasn't spoken to McComb yet, he wants to retain the McComb's services to "periodically inspect the controls."
Parris said that Timber Company is the managing partner in the development. He said former Botany Bay architect William Karr is no longer involved in the company.
The League of Women Voters of the Virgin Islands has raised serious concerns about the project, and suggests it may be time to put on the brakes. Erva Denham, environmental activist and League president, issued a statement late Thursday noting the group's questions and list of deficiencies.
After reviewing the EAR and the BBP major permit application, the League says the reduction in density is "impressive, however, even if carefully managed by extensive mitigation measures, the site will be substantially cleared of its natural cover of trees and shrubs with will inevitably result in slow but sure deterioration of both marine and terrestrial habitats."
The League applauds a benthic (bottom of ocean) study that recommends extensive monitoring be conducted during construction because of marine habitat vulnerability to sedimentation and turbidity. But the League says, "greater effort must be made to lessen the destruction of the terrestrial plant communities by not clearing away so much of the existing natural shrub species."
If that natural vegetation, which provides food and cover for animal life, is removed and replaced by lawns and exotic plants, much of that animal life will disappear.
Secondly, the League says, "the natural vegetation protects the marine life from smothering sedimentation which is particularly damaging to elkhorn coral."
In addition to environmental concerns, the League questions the same infrastructure issues EAST has addressed, along with several economic concerns regarding the project's workforce.
Tyler Smith, a coral reef researcher for the University of the Virgin Island Center for Marine and Environmental Studies, shares the League's concerns about the health of the coral.
"The coral reef below the bay is an exceptionally nice community of organisms. It has a high diversity
of fish and coral, and a very large population of elkhorn and staghorn coral which are now going on the threatened list," Smith said Friday.
He said the developers should take another look at their plans to control the runoff caused by the construction. "Because of the upland development," he said, "there are indications that increased sediment will be entering the system."
Another concern is the anticipated boat traffic.
Smith said, "Once in place, the recreational uses of Botany Bay should be constrained so that boat traffic will be directed away from the threatened coral. It should be mandated that the developers educate their guests and property owners of the ecological uses of the area.
"We need to walk with caution," Smith concluded. "Botany Bay is one of the nicest and last remaining pieces of waterfront property on St. Thomas. We need to proceed with caution."
The CZM Committee meeting is scheduled for 8 p.m. July 25 at CZM's airport offices. The meeting was originally scheduled for July 14.

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