It’s time to take action. That was the consensus among Smith Bay residents and business owners who gathered Tuesday evening to hear about a comprehensive watershed plan being proposed by the Virgin Islands Conservation Society.
Flooding and runoff pollution in the Smith Bay and Water Bay watershed are impacting health, property values and overall quality of life in Smith Bay, according to VICS and the Smith Bay Community Action Foundation, who hosted the meeting.
VICS program manager Paul Chakroff, an environmental consultant who specializes in water management, said that frequent flooding and pollution in the lower elevations of the Smith Bay watershed is largely the result of how the area has developed over the last several decades.
He said that the first step in addressing the problem will be studying the current characteristics of the watershed, a process which he hopes will be partially funded by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency under the Federal Clean Water Act.
"This problem has taken probably 60 to 80 years to develop. It won’t be fixed in one or two years," said Chakroff.
"If we look at the conditions of the Smith Bay area in the 1940s, before we had the density of population there, we would find that the conditions of water flow would be quite different than they are today. Unfortunately we can’t turn back the clock to 1950."
Chackroff said that VICS will be applying for federal funding for the project.
He said that Pineapple Village, Margaritaville and literally hundreds of homes in Smith Bay are built in a flood plain that is "nearly underwater" after major storms. Chakroff also said that runoff pollution was draining into the ocean around the island’s only marine park, Coral World, and one of its most popular beaches, Coki Beach.
The flooding and deterioration of the road to Coki Point was the largest concern of Smith Bay residents at the meeting, who said the current flooding in the road was forcing pedestrians, including school children and the elderly, to climb on a nearby wall in order to pass through the area.
"The road is unacceptable to drive on," said a taxi driver who expressed frustration with the lack of action from local government on closing the road for repairs and providing a detour.
Several residents agreed that the road should be closed to car traffic until it can be repaired.
A representative from the office of Sen. Marvin Blyden said that plans were in the works to address the condition of Coki Point Road, including building a walkway for pedestrians. He said that a ghut nearby the road that once allowed for the natural flow of water through the area has become overgrown with protected species of wetland trees, which require federal permits to remove.
Blyden could not attend the meeting due to a death in the family.
Jason Budsan, president of VICS, said that the organization is committed to coming up with creative short-term solutions to Smith Bay’s watershed issues, while at the same time beginning the longer process of pursuing a comprehensive plan for watershed use.
Individuals who would like to be involved in these efforts are encouraged to contact Education and Outreach coordinator Valerie Peters at 340-344-8446.