Over the past 10 years, I’ve run successful businesses in the hospitality industry in St. Thomas and in the states. I know, first hand, how burdensome regulations and misguided decisions by government officials can spoil well-intentioned entrepreneurship and hurt economic development.
So, I was disappointed to see another government bureaucrat’s stand in the way of economic progress in the Virgin Islands.
This time, the St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management – once again – failed the people of the St. Thomas/ St. John District with the almost inexplicable decision to reject a job-creating proposal to place an environmentally-friendly floating lounge and restaurant just off Mingo Cay, between St. Thomas and St. John.
If approved, the plan by the people behind Cowgirl Bebop would have meant a minimum of 100 new jobs. With the unemployment rate in the VI lodged stuck in the double digits and businesses closing at an alarming rate, the Committee decision to kick to the curb a suitable new employer is nothing less than shameful. It was thumb in the eye of every out-of-work Virgin Islander in the service industry.
From what I [have] read, Cowgirl Bebop was going to be a “zero discharge operation” where nothing would be dumped into the sea. All waste would be off-loaded to St. Thomas by two dedicated support vessels. Holding tanks would store gray water (dishwater) and black water (sewage) for proper disposal. Alarms would activate when the tanks reached 50 percent of capacity.
The exact location, south of Mingo Cay, is virtually absent coral reef and sea grass, meaning the impact from installing moorings and blocking sunlight to marine life is minor, at best. This point was not in dispute by Committee members during public discussions.
The CZM staff investigated Cowgirl Bebop proposal to ensure that the 120-foot lounge/vessel would be safe and have a minimal impact on the sea life in Pillsbury Sound. The staff recommended the Committee approve the plan. In past months, Committee members even praised the project as a “good idea.”
Yet three members of the Committee voted unanimously last month to turn down the plan.
As a business owner, it infuriates me when the administration of Gov. Albert Bryan appears on one hand to be an advocate for jobs creation and economic development, but the bureaucrats that implement the rules are nothing less than obstacles to growth in the territory.
Like other government boards and commissions, it turns out the St. John Coastal Zone Management is run as the personal fiefdom of Committee members who ignore the specific recommendations of its staff (and the administration’s economic development strategy) and trample the needs of the community.
Sometimes their motivations are clear, like possible conflicts of interest that arise when a Committee member’s personal law firm specializes in environmental planning and land-use. Or when another Committee member/ business owner faces a vote on proposal that impacts his own establishment.
The Bryan administration removed one member of the Committee last month. Now, Mr. Governor, its time to finish the job, and replace the entire St. John Committee of Coastal Zone Management.
Editor’s note: Sam Smack is the owner of Three Sheets Bar and Kitchen on St. Thomas.