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Public Concerned about Environmental Impact of Hull Bay Ramp, Building of Parking Lot

Nearly 100 residents gathered for Thursday night’s public hearing, which was moved to the Charlotte Amalie High School auditorium to accommodate the crowd. (Photo by Joshua Crawford Barry)

Though the concerns were similar on both sides – turtle nesting, boater safety, and the preservation of Hull Bay – Planning and Natural Resources staff and residents were split Thursday over whether the construction of a new ramp and possible parking lot at Hull Bay would address those issues or make the beach worse.

Plans for the ramp have morphed since their initial introduction in 2011 to the most recent showing last February. Where the design was first a simple rebuild of the existing structure, what was discussed at Thursday’s public hearing on St. Thomas was the construction of an adjacent ramp – which DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol said gives fishermen and boaters continued access to the old one until construction is finished and the old ramp is demolished.

As the 2023 plans pull from lessons learned from the older designs, feedback shared at previous public hearings and the eventual caving in in 2019 of a portion of the existing ramp, the adjacent ramp would also extend 120 feet into the water, giving boaters an extra 2.5 feet of depth – up to 4.5 feet – in which to launch. Though project manager Eric Douglas shared additional plans for the potential construction of public parking and trailer spaces, along with an access road from Tropaco Point and the construction of an uphill drainage swale to control stormwater runoff, speakers said the only portion of the plans funded at this point are for the ramp itself.

DPNR Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol said the new plans for Hull Bay were informed by older designs and public feedback provided at past hearings. (Photo by Joshua Crawford Barry)

The design for the remainder of the improvements will be determined by future public input, added DPNR Fish and Wildlife Environmental Specialist Alfonso Garcia. Undeterred, residents stood firm on their opposition to the parking, which Oriol said was meant to create a more organized system than what’s currently in place and divert runoff.

“And really, if the parking area is not a good idea, then we understand that, too,” he said. The statement was met by thunderous applause, but the hearing still continued for more than two hours, with concerns from the nearly 100 people in attendance ranging from the uprooting of trees, the potential gentrification and overdevelopment of beach, erosion of the area under the new ramp – similar to what’s happening now – and the environmental impact caused by moving the ramp and putting it further out.

As of Thursday, more than 2,500 people had signed a Change.org petition against the ramp and other construction, with many also implying that the project is being done to benefit the owners of The Shack restaurant and The Hideaway at Hull Bay, the boutique resort featuring two villas and eight cottages that opened in January 2022 across the street from the beach. At the evening hearing, owner Lee Steiner said he’s not involved “directly or indirectly” with the project.

Residents were opposed to the addition of a parking lot in the design, which they said would add to the overdevelopment of the beach. (Photo by Joshua Crawford Barry)

Meanwhile, Oriol said since the ramp is shifting only a few feet, the ebb and flow of the tides would be the same and to mitigate against sand erosion, a barrier would be built around the new ramp. Addressing concerns from one fisherman about having to move the existing moorings in the bay – which he said many families have claimed for generations – with the extension of the ramp, Oriol added that DPNR would be working with those residents to find the best spots.

And if the parking lot moves forward, he added, 10 out of the 13 trees that would be impacted will be replanted. Considerations are also being made for turtle nesting and coral restoration, he said.

The next phase, Oriol said, is permitting, which still requires a Coastal Zone Management Committee hearing and more public input.

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