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Lindbergh Bay dump site scrapped

Daily News: Lindbergh Bay dump site scrapped
Megaship Oasis of the Seas will dock in Crown Bay; task force must find new site for harbor dredge spoils
By ALDETH LEWIN  

Thursday, October 15th 2009

ST. THOMAS – After months of tension between the government and the community, Gov. John deJongh Jr. announced Wednesday that dumping dredge material in Lindbergh Bay is now off the table.

At a Government House press conference, deJongh said an interim solution has been reached to have Royal Caribbean’s Oasis of the Seas dock at Crown Bay for the coming season while the government finds a suitable location to put dredge spoils.

St. Thomas Harbor must be dredged to allow Oasis of the Seas – the largest ship in the world – to berth at the West Indian Co. dock in Havensight. WICO and the V.I. Port Authority filed a joint Coastal Zone Management permit application in February to dredge the harbor and dump the 162,000 cubic yards of material into an existing depression in Lindbergh Bay.

The depression was created in 1935 when sand was removed to create the land base for King Airport. The 1935 dredging left a 33-acre, 35-foot-deep trench in the northern portion of the bay.

The St. Thomas CZM Committee approved the permit for the project in May and the Legislature ratified it in June – despite widespread public outcry. Opponents of the project, for the most part, were not against the dredging of the harbor, but were opposed to dumping of the spoils in Lindbergh Bay.

According to the CZM permit, three areas of the harbor will be dredged: the channel, the turning basin in the harbor and the area around the WICO dock. The dredging will make the depths a maximum of 40 feet in the channel and 37 feet in the turning basin and along the WICO dock.

The last hurdle the project had to clear was obtaining a U.S. Army Corps of Engineer permit. DeJongh said there have been many meetings with the federal agency, and he is confident a permit ultimately would have been issued.

“While we are fairly certain that after various filings with the Army Corps of Engineers and adherence to their internal processes, that a permit will be issued; I am mindful of the community’s concerns for the portion of the project that calls for the placement of the dredge spoils in Lindbergh Bay. Therefore, I have decided that a change in course is required,” deJongh said.

He said he has directed WICO and the Port Authority to eliminate Lindbergh Bay as an option for the deposit of the dredge material. Instead, a “mini task force” has been formed to consider alternate dump sites. The task force includes representatives from WICO, Port Authority, Tourism and Public Works.

In the meantime, an arrangement has been reached to shuffle ships between the WICO dock and the Port Authority’s Monsanto Marine Terminal at Crown Bay. Princess and Holland America had exclusive contracts with Port Authority to dock at Crown Bay, but they have agreed to dock at WICO on the days that the Oasis of the Seas is in port.

Port Authority Executive Director Kenn Hobson said while two ships of that size could fit at the pier, the issue was the number of passengers that will be disembarking at one time.

Tourism Commissioner Beverly Nicholson-Doty said her agency will be closely working with the Port Authority to ensure that the passengers onboard the Oasis of the Seas have a positive experience.

She said she is working with the island’s taxi associations to develop better systems for getting passengers in and out of the facility and coordinating the drop-off locations so passengers traveling downtown are taken to both Market Square and Emancipation Garden to disperse the people better.

She said there is not as much room at Crown Bay for staging – getting passengers onto their tours – and that also must be addressed.

Hobson said to accommodate the largest cruise ship in the world, a new 175-ton bollard must be purchased and installed to tie the ship to when it docks. He said it will cost about $250,000 and while the Port Authority will pay for it up front – it will become a permanent part of the authority’s property – he is hoping an agreement will be reached with Royal Caribbean to help finance the purchase.

The Oasis of the Seas does all of its security screening outside the ship itself, so the Port Authority will need to acquire air-conditioned tents for the passengers to pass through. Royal Caribbean will supply the security screening machines which will stay on St. Thomas.

While it may not be the most comfortable solution, having the Oasis at Crown Bay for a year prevents the ship from dropping St. Thomas from its itinerary.

“Crown Bay is an interim solution,” deJongh said. He said he expects the task force to come up with an appropriate solution and obtain the necessary permits in enough time for the dredging to be completed by October 2010 so Oasis of the Seas can dock in Havensight for the 2010-2011 season.

With the interim solution, the Oasis will call on St. Thomas every Tuesday beginning Dec. 8. Next year, when its sister ship – the Allure of the Seas – is launched, the two megaships will alternate every other Tuesday in St. Thomas.

Royal Caribbean’s mega-ships will be the biggest on the ocean, carrying 5,400 passengers. The boats will have 16 decks, encompass 225,282 gross registered tons and boast 2,700 staterooms.

WICO President and Chief Executive Officer Edward Thomas said as additional conditions were placed on the project throughout the permitting process, the cost of the endeavor continued to climb. After the CZM permit was approved with conditions, the project jumped from $9 million to $12 million.

In discussions with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, it was likely that additional conditions would have brought the project total to $15 million. Without the costs associated with the Lindbergh Bay dumping, Thomas said the total project cost likely would decrease. “There is no question in my mind that if we get to the right site and don’t have these issues, the costs could be adjusted downward,” Thomas said.

WICO has been fronting the money for the consultant and legal fees associated with the permitting process – $1.1 million has been spent so far, Thomas said. Royal Caribbean will reimburse WICO for all of those costs, Thomas said.

The cost of the dredging project itself will also be funded by the cruise line. WICO and the Port Authority will put out the money and the cost will be recovered through a surcharge assessed to Royal Caribbean. The final details of that process have not been solidified, Thomas said.

Thomas said the Army Corps permit application has been removed and the new task force will work to figure out how to proceed with the dredging project.

– Contact reporter Aldeth Lewin at 774-8772 ext. 311 or e-mail alewin@dailynews.vi.

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