Officials from Coral World Ocean Park received endorsement on several requests for reconsideration of special conditions on Thursday, paving the way for work to proceed on a dolphin exhibit at the popular marine theme park.
The Coastal Zone Management Board meeting was held in the conference room of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources on the second floor of the Cyril E. King airport and, because Thursday’s meeting was a decision meeting and not a public hearing, the public was invited to attend but the committee did not allow comments from those in attendance.
“We are very pleased with tonight’s decisions,” said Coral Word owner Trudi Prior following the announcement. “The Coastal Zone Management staff and committee listened and addressed each request in an equitable and fair manner.”
On March 26, 2013, the Division of CZM received correspondence from Coral World officials requesting the reconsideration of several special conditions pursuant to a major permit application that had previously been approved on Feb. 13 in a four-to-one vote.
The habitat structure planned by Coral World would provide a two-acre space supported by concrete pilings and stainless steel mesh that would serve as the pen’s walls. Plans also include a medical facility, a birthing and breeding area, in addition to a movable platform allowing visitors of all ages and disabilities the opportunity to interact with the mammals.
Coral World officials say the dolphin exhibit will draw an additional 25,000 to 35,000 visitor per year, add 20-25 new jobs at the park, and contribute more than $4 million to the territory’s economy.
While there were several special conditions attached to the permit by the CZM committee, park officials were most concerned with the following:
– That the park would be allowed to commence its interactive program with six dolphins for a three-year period during which water quality parameters would be recorded on a monthly basis before additional dolphins could be requested. The results of the water quality monitoring would then be submitted to the CZM committee in an annual report. Coral world officials argued successfully that water quality does not need to be monitored for three-year period in order to determine whether the dolphins are negatively impacting the area and that a three-year waiting period would further serve to inhibit the business model as it was originally proposed. An amendment was granted changing the study to a one-year monitoring period before requesting additional dolphins.
– That in accordance with the memorandum from the Division of Fish and Wildlife, the park will submit a strategic plan within 90 days to relocate the sea lion exhibit from their current holding pens to a permitted permanent facility and come into compliance with DFW issued permits. Stating that the original plans for a large-scale sea lion habitat had changed and that the original permit for a dolphin exhibit was now the main focus, the committee ruled that the permit was all encompassing and treated the water park as one existing facility. In their ruling, the committee did state that CZM staff had met as recently as April 12 with DFW and that there are no outstanding compliance issues with permits issued for the sea lions and, as such, conditions relating to permits for the sea lions can be removed.
– The final stipulation required by the original permit stated that Coral World would be required to apply for accreditation from the Alliance of Marine Parks and Aquariums within 90 days of the execution of the permit and submit evidence of such to the CZM committee. The park argues that the project still has to be approved by the Army Corps of Engineers as well as the U.S. Department of Agriculture along with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration who must also approve separate permits involving the importation of the dolphins. Allowing for the additional permits still remaining, the committee changed the timeframe required, giving Coral World 12 months to apply and that once membership had been granted that it be reported accordingly.
Other business that was approved Thursday was the modification of an existing major permit first granted to the West Indian Company Ltd. in 1989 and modified three additional times since calling for the installation of a pile supported mooring dolphin to the existing WICO dock structure, as well as a 120-foot walkway structure which will provide access from the new mooring dolphin to exiting dock.
“Other competing cruise ship stops such as Saint Marten are out ahead of us,” said Mark Sabino, WICO’s director of marine services. ”The region and the industry demand these changes.” The changes are in reference to the post-Panama Canal built cruise ships already scheduled to call on the territory in the next season. The new ships expected range in size from 950 to 1,150 feet in length. The installation of two new bollards, used to tie up the ships will be completed by July 30 while the deadline for the dock extension is slated for early November.
Also passed by the committee were CZM permit requests for assignment and transfer of major permits by RC St. Thomas LLC (f/k/a Cabrita Partners LLC) to Development Partners International LLC and the restructuring of the original permit that once included the development of timeshare properties to luxury condominiums. An extension was also granted to extend an existing permit to allow for the new direction the project has taken.
CZM Board members present at Thursday’s meeting were Peggy Simmonds, Winston Adams, Richard Brown, Karl Purcell and Chairman Austin Monsanto.