Marina Developments in Coral Bay, St. John

Artist’s impression of the Yacht Club at Summer’s End. Graphics courtesy of The Summer’s End Group, LLC

St. John, the 19-square-mile U.S. Virgin Island located east of St. Thomas and southwest of Tortola, BVI, is the only major Virgin Island, U.S. or British, without a marina. Now, there are two marina projects currently proposed. Proponents say a marina on the island, specifically in Coral Bay on the eastern end of the island, offers a vast number of social/cultural, environmental and economic benefits. Opponents say that such a project would change a way of life that attracts visitors to this part of the island. This latter sentiment was splashed out in January by the New York Times, a publication ranked 39th in the word in circulation, that put this quaint settlement of just over 600 people on its ‘52 Places to Go in 2016’. The urgency, as the article says, is to ‘visit the U.S. Virgin Islands’ quiet corner before big development’.

The Summer’s End Group’s plans are to build a 145-slip marina that could dock small vessels up to megayachts on the southern side of Coral Harbor where Island Blues, Coco Loba and Shoreline Inn are currently located. The first phase of the project also calls for 120 off street parking spaces, a new 56 seat restaurant, Customs and Border Protection office, a marina office, marina engineering, marina security, fish and farmers market, crew shower and locker facilities, apartments to support marina management, proper solid, hazardous and liquid waste management, proper storm-water management and proper fueling.

Marina Deveolpments in Coral Bay, St. John:Those against the development fear Coral Bay will lose its charm. Photo: Dean Barnes
Those against the development fear Coral Bay will lose its charm. Photo: Dean Barnes

The big attraction of Coral Bay today isn’t glitz and glamor but instead a laidback vibe reminiscent of an earlier time. There’s only one main road that cars share equally with goats and donkeys, no stoplights, a handful of quaint bars and restaurants that blend in with the natural land and seascape, and a lively live-aboard community nestled in this natural anchorage.

“St. John has gone for far too long without proper services for local and recreational vessels which has resulted in environmental degradation to many of our bays, the most of which pollution can be found in Coral Harbor as a result of a lack of waste water disposal facilities and EPA (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency) approved fueling, and consistent enforcement from territorial authorities,” explains Chaliese Summers, managing member of the St. John-based Summer’s End Group, LLC. “The St. John Marina, The Yacht Club at Summer’s End (YCSE) is positioned to be the newest premier yachting and sailing destination in the Caribbean, while serving the local and recreational maritime industry for the first time on the island with a world class, environmentally considerate, sustainably engineered marine facility.”

Marina Deveolpments in Coral Bay, St. John:Coral Bay. Photo: Dean Barnes
Coral Bay. Photo: Dean Barnes
Marina Deveolpments in Coral Bay, St. John:Liveaboards and cruisers have long made their home in Coral Bay. Photo: Dean Barnes
Liveaboards and cruisers have long made their home in Coral Bay. Photo: Dean Barnes

According to Joe Kessler, a Coral Bay resident and president of the nonprofit Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park, the U.S. Army Corp of engineers (USACE) has suspended consideration of the Summer’s end application until the developers adequately respond to the 113 concerns/issues raised by the public and the USACE. “This is a daunting task but the developers are reportedly working away at it,” says Kessler.

Indeed, Summers says the group is currently comprehensively working to address all of the USACE’s concerns,

“We don’t feel that there isn’t anything we can’t address. We just want to make sure to have the data to back us up. Therefore, we’ve requested and received an extension that gives us up to a year. In the end, this is enabling us to make the St. John Marina project even better,” says Summers.

The second proposal is by T-Rex Capital, a Connecticut, USA-based property development company, to build the 92-slip Sirius Marina. This project, set for land on which the Coral Bay ballfield, Fire Station, former Guy Benjamin school and Skinny Legs restaurant complex sits, is 92 slips for vessels 35 to 70 feet in length. Additional plans call for an on-shore 30 powerboat dry stack storage building, marine retail shops and a boat ramp. Phase II calls for an 89-unit hotel complex.

Marina Deveolpments in Coral Bay, St. John:Photo: Dean Barnes
Photo: Dean Barnes

“We are now in the Public Comment period for the T-Rex marina permit application,” says David Silverman, a Coral Bay resident and member of the Coral Bay Community Council, Inc., who has followed these projects closely. “The T-Rex project presents many of the same concerns that were identified during the public comments on the Summer’s End project. Building a marina in waters that are habitat for endangered sea turtles, endangered corals, directly adjacent to the Virgin Islands National Park and the Coral Reef National Monument, is simply not a sensible idea. In addition, this project proposes dredging an area of mangroves that is home to juvenile fish and a rookery for sea birds. We expect the public and agency comments to reflect all of these concerns.”

The big attraction of Coral Bay today isn’t glitz and glamor but instead a laidback vibe reminiscent of an earlier time. There’s only one main road that cars share equally with goats and donkeys, no stoplights, a handful of quaint bars and restaurants that blend in with the natural land and seascape, and a lively live-aboard community nestled in this natural anchorage.

“Many people who oppose these two marina projects would, in fact, like to see a marina in Coral Bay,” says the Friends’ Kessler. “But it would have to make sense in the local context. For example, be of an appropriate size and provide services and facilities that are needed by the local community, cruisers, charter and bare-boat visitors, and not just high-end tourists/charterers.”

Editor’s note: Passions on both sides are running high as developers and those opposed put forward their arguments over the future of Coral Bay. All At Sea would like to hear your thoughts on the Coral Bay development plans. Please email your letters to: [email protected]

 

Carol M. Bareuther, RD, is a St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands based marine writer and registered dietitian.

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6 comments

  1. Thank you for this well balanced coverage of the highly controversial proposal to build a 28 acre mega yacht marina in undeveloped Coral Bay harbor. As you point out, the views of the developer (the Summer’s End Group), the National Park Service, and Save Coral Bay are widely divergent on the need for, and the impacts which this proposal would have on the environment and economy of our community.

    The one important piece of information missing from this article was the response which the federal agencies have made to this project proposal. All five federal agencies involved in the permit review – the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the US Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), the National Park Service, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Agency (NOAA), have strongly objected to the issuance of a permit based on a multitude of environmental concerns. Two agencies (EPA and NMFS) have outright instructed the Army Corps not to issue a permit. EPA has ultimate jurisdiction in Coral Bay since it is an Aquatic Resource of National Importance. The comment letters from these federal agencies may all be read, in their unedited, original form, here http://savecoralbay.com/federal-agency-usace-comments/ .

    • David, we appreciate you adding the comment letters link! Thank you for reading and sharing your perspective. We are curious to see how this will end.

  2. With all of the reports from the various environmental agencies already saying a marina the size of the SEG proposal is detrimental to Coral Bay…just why are they still around? The Moravian Church proposal is also “wrong” for this area! Both groups need to do their homework before ANY more harassment of those affected.

    • Karla, we sure hope that before something of this magnitude is approved, there will be deep investigation and consideration of the environmental impact and community impact. We will be standing by as it continues to unfold.

  3. As a former resident of St John (Coral Bay specifically) and a sometimes liveaboard boater (35′ sail) I would like to weigh in.

    The problem is all the boaters dumping overboard, etc. right ? That’s what the article touts as an ‘issue’. Well, the solution is simple, cheap and immediately beneficial to everyone : Get a pump out boat and make the liveaboards use it. Get rid of the derelict boats that have not had anyone sail them or live on board for years. Clean up the waterfront. Improve the marine facilities that are already there, adding slightly as needed. All of this will improve the area immensely and NOT compromise the character of the place, or force the people to leave.

    Apparently this never crossed anyone’s mind though. The ONLY suggestions are to put in giant marinas, totally reworking the waterfront. A huge development, called ‘premier’ in the article. Premier only means one thing and that is expensive. Exclusive. Mega yachts with crews. All the stuff you can get at all the other glitzy marinas all over the islands. Is there really a shortage of chinsy tourist shops and overpriced restaurants ? No, there are plenty, everywhere you go it is a struggle to find small scale local culture, real people, actual sailors. STJ and Coral Bay are one of the last holdouts. The desire for a new big marina is only motivated by money. Nothing else. It will have benefits – to people who financed it and to people who own it. The cost will be one of the last cool spots in the VI.

    Think about it.

    • David, a local’s point of view is what we were hoping to deliver with our piece, written by a USVI local. Thank you for getting us even closer to the heart of things with your ideas and opinions as a former resident of Coral Bay.

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