The St. Thomas Coastal Zone Management Committee agreed with the position of the Friends of Mandahl Thursday evening disapproving a proposal for a large-scale marina and housing development in Estate Mandahl to cheers and applause from the public. The Friends of Mandahl represented by environmental counsel Nycole Thompson of Tom Bolt & Associates, P.C. had advocated against the project as it did not comply with the criteria established by law for coastal zone projects in the Territory. “The CZM decision to deny Mandahl Bay Holdings’ permit applications is a victory for both the community and for the environment.” Thompson said.
“From a legal perspective, the proposed project was inconsistent with the CZM’s goals of environmental protection and the orderly development of the coastal area.” Thompson noted. “Pursuant to the CZM statute, the Committee is required to make certain findings or deny the permit application.” The additional findings include: whether the proposed project serves the public good; won’t adversely affect public health, safety or general welfare; will impose minimum damage to the environment; complies with the V.I. Air and Water Quality standards; and there is no reasonably feasible alternative to the proposed activity. “The applicant’s own testimony confirmed that the proposed project would detrimentally affect the environment and adversely affect the public’s welfare.” Thompson said.
CZM Director Janice Hodge agreed with Attorney Thompson’s position on behalf of the Friends of Mandahl noting that the project was not "consistent" with CZM’s statute. Hodge also noted that the development would alter the "last remaining natural wetland" on the north side of St. Thomas.
The long-awaited decision hearing took about an hour, ending with a vote to deny both CZM permit applications, which laid out plans for a 91-acre coastal community which included condos, studio apartments and town center, among other things. Voting against the project were CZM committee members Winston Adams, Richard Brown, Fern LaBorde and Peggy Simmonds. CZM Committee chairman Austin "Babe" Monsanto abstained, stating that he didn’t have enough time to review all the information prior to the hearing.
“The CZM Committee’s decision to deny Mandahl Bay Holdings’ permit application breathes new life into our ‘Coastal Zone Management Act’.” Thompson said. “The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit has already held that the Government can restrict development by applying the Coastal Zone Management Act. Tamarind Resort Associates v. Government of the Virgin Islands, 138 F.3d 107 (3d Cir. 1997). With respect to the 1964 Lease Agreement that was the subject of much debate at the hearing on the Mandahl Bay Holding’s permit applications, the Third Circuit found that the Government only agreed to issue necessary permits for development if the proposed project is consistent with the public interest. The Third Circuit also found that the Mandhal lease agreement does not grant an unlimited right to develop the land for commercial purposes.” Thompson remarked.
The project developer Mark Small has 45 days to appeal the CZM’s decision. “We recongnize the developer’s right to appeal, but CZM’s denial of Mandahl Bay Holdings’ permit applications was based on sound law.” Thompson concluded. “Hopefully this is the beginning of ensuring the preservation of Mandahl Bay’s significant natural areas and potential recreational areas for the betterment of our community and the environment for generations to come.”