Although Summer’s End principal Robert O’Connor Jr. claimed to deny St. John the opportunities that would come with building the group’s proposed St. John Marina would be genocide, the vast majority of those who spoke at Monday’s Coastal Zone Management Committee public hearing at the Legislature building thought otherwise.
“Coral Bay needs a marina, but only a couple of slips,” St. John resident Philip “Grasshopper” Pickering said, echoing the comments of many who took their turn for three minutes at the microphone.
Summer’s End wants a CZM permit for a 145-slip marina that V.I. Conservation Society President Jason Budsan said will occupy 35 percent of the harbor.
“They propose to take over the whole bay,” said St. John resident Gerry Hills, who had served seven years on the St. John CZM Committee before resigning in 2012.
The CZM application indicates that Summer’s End proposes to assume management of the existing moorings from the Planning and Natural Resources Department as well as install additional moorings.
More than 40 people testified. However, well more than 125 people tried to get into the hearing. They started signing up for a seat and to testify an hour before the CZM members heard testimony on the Westin Resort and Villas request for a modification to its existing permit so it can install solar panels. It got a unanimous okay.
It was close to another hour and a half before the Summer’s End public hearing began. The police were called to ensure that people were admitted in the order in which they signed up. Eventually the police opened the double doors to the upstairs courtyard so those who didn’t make it inside could hear.
“It seemed like a hurricane out there,” said Andrew Penn, who chaired the CZM hearing.
Penn said the committee had to use the Legislature building so it could connect via Skype with the third member of the committee, Edmond Roberts, who was in California.
Most of the testifiers who spoke against the project raised environmental, infrastructure and social concerns.
St. John resident David Silverman, who provided a lengthy analysis of the proposal to the CZM members, spoke from the perspective of one who served 10 years on the CZM Committee in New York.
“This application is the most egregious example of nonconsistency with CZM goals and policies,” Silverman said.
Hills delivered 160 emails, gathered by the Coral Bay Community Council, against the project to the CZM. He said he agreed with those letter writers.
“This is the worst proposal I’ve seen in 14 years,” Hills said, adding that he saw many of the same justifications when CZM approved the Pond Bay Club, only to see it never open when the owners went bankrupt.
St. John resident Daryl Wade observed that the marina as proposed was not in keeping with the character of Coral Bay.
“I see nothing to preserve Coral Bay,” Wade said.
Others addressed what they saw as a lack of mitigation measures in the proposal. One measure called for planting sea grass at the outer end of the bay to mitigate the loss of it in the shadow of the boats tied up at the dock.
“If sea grass is not growing somewhere else, there’s a reason,” said St. John resident Rafe Boulon, who retired a couple of years ago as V.I. National Park’s resources chief.
Several people said if the marina were approved, Coral Bay wouldn’t attract tourists while the construction was ongoing.
“To be sure, Trip Advisor will light up with bad reviews about construction,” St. John resident Lawrence Wilson said.
Others indicated that people visit Coral Bay because it’s special and that they will find no appeal in a marina attracting a well-heeled clientele in mega yachts.
Several people observed that, should Summer’s End get approval, it would have an adverse effect on a marina in the works on land owned by the Moravian Church. It sits across the bay from the parcels along Route 107 that Summer’s End plans to utilize.
“This marina makes plans for the church’s marina impossible,” attorney Maria Tankensen Hodge said, noting that the Summer’s End principals tried to collaborate with the church’s developers but had no luck.
In response to Summer’s End’s claim that it will provide jobs, Lonnie Willis, who has been in business on St. John for 40 years, said most of the island’s work force comes from St. Thomas and is seasonal from the states.
“I never had enough locals apply for jobs,” she said.
St. John resident Joan Wilson, who spent her career evaluating project applications, urged the CZM to take a close look at the experience of those involved with the Summer’s End group. Wilson said that while Summer’s End managing member Chaliese Summers’ bio on LinkedIn indicates she managed multimillion-dollar projects for 15 years, her research showed Summers was an interior designer.
Later St. John resident Pam Gaffin said her research showed Summers had twice filed for bankruptcy under the names Chaliese Wynn and Chaliese Smith.
Two local government officials spoke out in support of the project. Assistant Tourism Commissioner Monique Sibilly Hodge said the project would help grow the territory’s market share.
Economic Development Authority Chief Executive Officer Percival Clouden said it would provide revenue to the government.
At least one of the eight other people who favored the proposal didn’t have much good to say about Coral Bay.
“Coral Bay appears to be a place where anything goes,” Ann Hendricks said, complaining that the waterfront area is in decline.
At issue for several testifiers was CZM’s makeup. It’s short two members, and one of its three members is involved with the Summer’s End project.
CZM member Brion Morrisette said he was the group’s attorney. However, in a letter to a local newspaper, Morrisette said he and O’Connor hold leases on some of the parcels Summer’s End intends to develop. He said Summer’s End would assume those leases.
Morrisette, who did not ask any questions at the public hearing and said he won’t vote on the project when it comes again before the committee, said if he didn’t attend the hearing, the CZM wouldn’t have a quorum.
CZM attorney Winston Brathwaite and League of Women Voters member Erva Boulon saw it differently. The both said that, as they read the law, a CZM member should not be involved in projects that come before the committee.
Morrisette and O’Connor were involved in another marina planned for the same location. It had a CZM permit but never got off the ground. O’Connor said the “market dropped.