A Committee of the Legislature considered the submerged land permit for the Thatch Cay Development this Wednesday evening.
I am extremely disturbed by the current investor interest in developing the uninhabited offshore cays. Is it because they know it will be harder in the future? Is it because the Territorial and Federal (and even international) regulatory environment is likely to make it increasingly difficult to turn these natural refuges for many other species into recreational and second-home habitats for man? Every day we learn more about why common sense and respect for all of the natural world should cause us to leave parts of it "untouched." Surely the uninhabited cays of the Virgin Islands fit this definition. We only have to look at the blight in the view from St. John of the continuous excavations at Little St. James to imagine the likely consequences to nature there, both in and out of the ocean far from easy, cost-effective oversight by DPNR CZM and EP staff. What will happen on remote Thatch?
The extraordinary cost of building on these cays means that only the very rich can afford to enjoy these settings as is undoubtedly the intent of the developers. Everyone on the larger islands looking out will have their own views diminished (and with their visual and economic value). Tourism on the bigger islands will suffer.
Probably for most of these developers, the monetary value of the Cay itself is small in their total investment portfolios. Deeding Thatch Cay and all the other privately owned cays to the VI Government Territorial Park System, or the Nature Conservancy, or the Federal Park system, or some other conservation agency for a generous tax deduction should be the preferred choice for each of these private owners. How do we collectively make it their genuine preferred choice?
1. Implore CZM to weigh the long-term potential negative economic consequences of developing the Cays (per the negative impact on tourism, views, etc.) against the perceived short-term benefits of construction activity and jobs and future taxes. Consider the need to focus on redeveloping existing areas.
2. Ask the VI Legislature and Governor and perhaps Congress to provide some special tax incentives, beyond the straight dollar value, for donating these islands to public conservation use. If they don't donate them, development laws and regulations should require substantial impact fees and much higher application fees to reflect the serious additional expense and travel time to monitor the development and provide perpetual public services.
3. Consider the possibility of using public funds and eminent domain if necessary to purchase these cays. Local history has shown this often happens at the 11th hour, in an emergency way. Could we begin a long- term plan?
4. All of the docking and water-based facilities being proposed for any of these Cay developments have to go through US Army Corps and Federal Endangered Species review. The federal agencies consider not only the individual application, but also the total impact of the many different likely similar applications for other cays. Thus the cumulative impact is an important factor in determining the actual environmental impact of approving any of these proposals. This is also a relevant question for each proposal that is reviewed by DPNR and CZM: Could this type of development be done on each privately held cay without diminishing our valuable Coastal Zone resources? Can any of us doubt that the deep soul-right answer to this is no?
We are on the cusp of developing a number of the cays, and need to rein in the only one that's aggressively underway now (Little St. James).
It's up to all of us here in the Virgin Islands now to come up with solutions that protect our cays from man's development, aggressively preserve them for nature's future and our long term tourism aesthetics. There are ways; we need to band together to pursue them. The Governor and the Legislature need to step up to protect the Virgin Islands for future generations. All of us need to work together to preserve all the cays.
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