The Senate Rules and Judiciary Committee on Tuesday forwarded three nominees for the V.I. Coastal Zone Management Commission onto the full Senate, whose members will confirm or deny the appointments on Wednesday.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. nominated Edmund Roberts of St. John for reappointment, and he also nominated two newcomers for commission appointments: Karl Percell of St. Thomas and Paul Simmonds of St. Croix.
If the Senate confirms the nominations, the men will serve two-year terms on the body charged with regulating development’s effects on the territory’s shores. It is a mostly volunteer job – commissioners receive $50 for each day or partial day they spend on Coastal Zone Management business, as well as expenses on those days – but it is an important public service, Senate President Ronald Russell said.
“We don’t have anything else but our good beaches,” Russell said.
Under V.I. Code, the commission is comprised of 15 voting members, including five from St. Thomas, five from St. Croix and five from St. John. Each island’s members constitute its own committee, which has the authority to issue permits in its jurisdiction.
Edmund Roberts, St. John
After six years on the commission, Roberts is ready for more of what he described as a “privilege.”
“St. John is a beautiful island of only 19 square miles, and like islands anywhere, it has a limit to its growth,” Roberts said.
Roberts noted how his island’s five-member committee currently has only three members, meaning a quorum is not possible if just one person is missing. Roberts added this member shortage already presents problems for commission members like him, who enjoy traveling, and that it could soon prevent the commission from taking action on a particular proposal.
As chairman of the Board of Stewards for the Moravian Church Virgin Islands Conference, Roberts said he must recuse himself from deliberations on the proposed development of 10 acres in Coral Bay that are owned by the church. The church has leased the land to a developer, T-Rex St. John, which wants to build a marina on the waterfront land. Roberts said the property is currently used by Guy Benjamin Elementary School, as well as the kids, sheep and community members who play in the large athletic field there.
The St. Thomas nominee, attorney Karl Percell, also has connections to the proposed project, as he represents the church, both Roberts and Percell said.
During the question-and-answer period, Roberts said one of the major challenges facing St. John is the lack of a sewage pump-out station for residential boats. This leads many to “pump and dump” their waste into the sea, Roberts said.
Despite difficulty of meeting a quorum, Roberts said he is looking forward to his next term.
“If the 29th Legislature of the Virgin Islands confirms my nomination to the CZM Board, I intend to continue working with all members of the board and our community in the protection of our coastal resources for the people of these islands,” Roberts said.
Karl Percell, St. Thomas
Born on St. Thomas, attorney Karl Percell graduated from Charlotte Amalie High School in 1976. After attending the College of the Virgin Islands for two years, he transferred to Howard University in Washington, D.C., where he earned a Bachelor of Arts in political science, and then a Juris Doctorate degree.
Percell said he studied V.I. Code and the commission’s rules and regulations to prepare for Tuesday’s hearing, and that he also conferenced with CZM Director Norman Williams to acquaint himself with the commission’s five-year goals.
One of those goals, Percell said, is establishing an internship program with a mainland college or university to review, revise and update the commission’s rules and regulations. When several Rules and Judiciary Committee members questioned why the commission could not partner with the University of the Virgin Islands for a local internship program, Percell said he would investigate that possibility as well.
In terms of other five-year goals, the commission needs to adopt a coastal land and water use plan, develop a climate change adaptation and management program, revise the permit-application process, and update its administrative-processing fees, Percell said.
“I know that I can apply my legal training, knowledge, and experience in helping to achieve these goals,” Percell said.
Paul Simmonds, St. Croix
Paul Simmonds said his motivations behind wanting to become a commission member are “simple and humble.”
“Let me state from the very beginning that I have no business interests where I will profit from any decision that I might make while on the commission,” Simmonds said. “My focus is on what is in the best interest of the Virgin Islands and the St. Croix community.”
Simmonds’ background is in business education, administration, and leadership. He has an MBA from Drexel University in Philadelphia, and a Ph.D. in strategic management from Philadelphia’s Temple University. Simmonds served from 2006 to 2008 as dean of the University of the Virgin Islands’ Business Division, according to his resume.
Simmonds said that if he is confirmed, he will advocate for the development of a comprehensive land and water use plan, and that he will diligently attend meetings and try to see that his colleagues do the same.
“The commission’s inability to hold meetings and conduct official business due to lack of attendance is, in my opinion, an abdication of responsibility to the very people members pledge to serve,” Simmonds said.
Simmonds cited Hong Kong as an example of a place where “natural beauty, social climate and cultural value” were forfeited for development that focused on economic gain. In contrast, the Cayman Islands present an example of preservation-minded development guided by a comprehensive plan, Simmonds said.
During the question-and-answer-period, Rules and Judiciary Chairman Sen. Usie Richards asked Simmonds, who like all the nominees submitted to a Senate criminal-background check, if he wanted to offer up any information about an arrest that may have happened in 1972, when Simmonds was in the military.
Simmonds said that yes, he was in the military at that time, but that he did not recall being arrested.
Simmonds closed his formal testimony with a commitment to the job ahead.
“I welcome the opportunity to serve my community,” Simmonds said.
Wednesday’s full Senate session starts at 10 a.m. in the Earl B. Ottley Legislative Chambers on St. Thomas.