St. Thomas environmental attorney Nycole Thompson of Tom Bolt & Associates, PC and counsel to the Friends of Christmas Cove addressed a jammed Port Authority conference room Tuesday night during a Coastal Zone Management (CZM) Committee public hearing regarding a proposal to moor a floating bar and restaurant known as the Leylon Sneed in Christmas Cove.
Thompson working with the newly formed citizen’s group Friends of Christmas Cove told the CMZ commissioners that grounds for denial of the permit rest in the fact that it hasn’t met the application standards for such things as environmental findings and proof that the proposal serves the public good. "The application submitted to the Commission was woefully insufficient," Nycole Thompson said. "Because there is insufficient information … this permit should not be granted."
Thompson’s colleague, attorney Jennifer Jones, said WT Enterprises should have revised the application 30 days before the hearing for the rationale presented Tuesday to be considered by the CZM committee.
Commission Chairman A. Winston Adams agreed. "If you file an application, you should be ready to justify that which was filed and not something completely different," he said.
The attorney for WT Enterprises opened the hearing with a presentation on the Sneed’s business plan that veered dramatically from what was outlined in the application submitted in September. Bell told the audience that the owners of WT Enterprises were interested in serving as environmental and educational stewards of Christmas Cove, which lies within the ecologically sensitive St. James Marine Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary. His clients regard the cove as a jewel in the crown of the Virgin Islands, he said. "Over the last few years they’ve been talking about what they could do to create a legacy for themselves, their children and their families and future generations," Bell told the CZM Committee.
Opponents countered that no such intention was reflected in the application from WT Enterprises, also known as Wild Thing Enterprises, saying Bell and his clients were disingenuous. In addition, they expressed concern over safety issues such as the sobriety of boaters who patronize the Sneed’s bar. According to Bell, WT Enterprises wants to use the 115-foot Sneed not merely as a bar and restaurant but also as a destination for students studying marine life, as well as a recruiting tool for the local marine industry.
"We want to generate a pool of qualified people who know the local waters, know the local economy," Bell told the CZM commissioners. Sneed proprietors would lay 30 moorings and partner with the government by serving as monitors against boats dropping anchor and damaging the cove, Bell said.
After presenting the WT Enterprises plan, Water Point Property Manager Drew Russo told Bell, "I reviewed the CZM permit application. Everything you spoke about does not appear — not one word — in that application or in any supporting documents. None!"
Attorney Nycole Thompson listed the various findings that St. Thomas Committee would need to make to grant the permit. "On every ground the applicants have failed to provide the required information and to make the grade required for the Committee to grant a permit." she noted.
During her presentation Thompson also pointed out to the Committee that several federally endangered and threatened species would be harmed if the permit were granted. Dr. Rick Nemeth from the University of the Virgin Islands Center for Marine and Enviromental Studies and Thomas Kelley, an environmentalist with the National Park Service, echoed this sentiment in their testimony before the Committee.
Water Point resident Penn Kavanaugh told the applicants, "I find it absolutely absurd that you would promote the notion of putting a floating bar and restaurant as a means of saving the environment. I think it’s more than absurd, I think it’s offensive in the extreme. You’re talking about a commercial enterprise and trying to justify it on the back of something that sounds more (politically correct)."
Chris Curreri, a native resident and a boat captain, was the sole supporter among those who testified: "… on the basis that we do need something to do — a destination — that’s not down in Havensight." People hire him "so they can get drunk" and not be at the helm, Curreri said. "But what about those who are at the helm after too many drinks at the Sneed bar?"
"I grew up around boats, and I grew up around people on boats, and when you mix alcohol and boats, that’s a safety hazard," said Jane Brown, also a native Virgin Islander. "This is an example of a disaster waiting to happen."
Environmental activist Dalma Simon warned the audience that the Sneed was the tip of the iceberg when it comes to threatening the reserve’s ecosystem, citing a proposal on the books to develop St. James Island, which harbors Christmas Cove.
"You haven’t seen anything yet," Simon said. "This is good stuff compared to what some developers have planned. The second St. James is developed, Christmas Cove is dead."
The public has one week to submit typewritten testimony regarding the Leylon Sneed’s application for consideration by the CZM Commission. The commission will issue a decision in 30 days.