Coral Bay boaters got a major case of anxiety when Planning and Natural Resources Enforcement Division officials arrived unannounced the week of February 23 to "sticker" boats without registrations and, in the case of dinghies, those that were too close to the water when tied up on the beach.
"We’re doing our jobs. People are calling us and fussing," Planning’s acting enforcement director, Roberto Tapia, said. Later in the week and early the following week, Tapia held meetings with boaters in an apparent effort to soothe their fears and announce some upcoming changes in the way Planning does business. About 50 people turned out for the first one and more than 100 for the second.
Chief among the changes is the department’s plan to enforce pump-out regulations. Tapia said that registration requirements will include a provision that boaters show receipts from a pump-out station to prove they legally pumped out their boat. If they chose to go three miles out to empty their holding tanks, Tapia said they must first call Planning so officers can witness them leaving the bay.
"If they don’t, their boats will not be registered in 2012," Tapia said. He acknowledged that there are no pump-out stations in Coral Bay, but said three people have submitted applications to utilize a portable pump out boat. Currently, the nearest pump-out stations are on the east end of St. Thomas.
At both meetings, Tapia spoke about the pump-out stations that would be available at marinas planned for Coral Bay, but the developers of the one planned for the vicinity of the Coral Bay dinghy dock, T-Rex, haven’t applied for the required Coastal Zone Management permit. The other one, with St. John businessman Robert O’Connor Jr. the principal, received a CZM permit in 2006, but work has not started.
Tapia worked out a deal with the Coral Bay Yacht Club to extend the dinghy dock 10 feet and keep up dock maintenance. He said dock ownership is unclear because of unsettled issues between the Moravian Church, which owns the waterfront property, and T-Rex.
Planning also tackled the unregistered boats issue. "I had people come in to register boats that hadn’t been registered in five years," Tapia said.
One boater asked what he should do about his situation. He bought a boat that hadn’t been registered for six years by the previous owners. When he went to register it, Planning staff couldn’t find the documentation. "I hope you find the paper work because you’re going to pay the arrears for six years," the official said.
Tapia said that boaters who have anchored in Coral Bay for more than a year but do not have mooring permits will be able to receive permits. However, he said they may eventually have to move because Planning expects to bring some sort of order to the harbor by grouping boats by size.
Tapia said that boats that currently hold mooring permits in the arm of Coral Bay called Johnson Bay are grandfathered in, but no new mooring permits will be issued for the area. Planning has threatened several times over the years to oust all boats from Johnson Bay.
The official promised that once he gets the harbor in shape, his officers will make periodic visits to make sure it stays that way. As for Planning’s sudden appearance in Coral Bay without holding public meetings and issuing press releases, Tapia said it just happened that way because officers were working in Chocolate Hole.
When he said Coral Bay was scheduled for a clean up in September, a few boaters groaned at the thought of having to deal with Planning issues during the height of hurricane season.
Long time St. John resident Lynda Lohr lives in Coral Bay. A reporter by trade, she has written for numerous international, national, regional, and local publications as well as travel and news websites.