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Lindbergh Bay


Lindbergh Bay
sparked the beginning of an environmentalist movement in St. Thomas, Water Island and St. John which is still going strong today. People met, formed coalitions, and thousands of citizens signed petitions in an outpouring of concern for our coastal waters and the endangered species that live there.

Lindbergh Bay is beautiful.  It was named after Charles Lindbergh who flew to St. Thomas when he was 25 years old. Aptly, Lindbergh Bay is near the St. Thomas airport. There is a Children’s Park at the bay, along with the Emerald Beach Resort Hotel, The Carib Beach Resort Hotel and the Island Beachcomber Resort, all of whom provide services and accommodation to thousands of guests bringing in thirty million dollars per year to the island’s economy, and employing 100 Virgin Islanders. These thousands of guests stay in Lindbergh Bay because the hotels, the beach and the bay are wonderful, and great for snorkeling and diving. Lindbergh Bay is the only beach on St. Thomas accessible by public transportation.

The VI Port Authority (VIPA) owns the land of Lindbergh Bay.  VIPA and the West Indies Company (WICO) wanted to dredge St. Thomas Harbor, and dump 160,000 cubic yards of silty dredge spoils into Lindbergh Bay, home to Staghorn Coral, Elkhorn Coral, and their critical habitat, Green Turtles, Hawksbill Turtles, Nassau Groupers, and a nest of Leatherback Turtle eggs, all of which are endangered or threatened species specifically protected by the Endangered Species Act.

The reason for the proposed dumping was that Royal Caribbean launched the Genesis  class of cruise ships, and it was claimed that the Oasis of the Seas could not dock in St. Thomas without dredging, and the local economy would suffer if the cruise ships had to go elsewhere. VIPA and WICO applied to the Department of Planning and Natural Resources, (DPNR), Coastal Zone Management (CZM) and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) to dredge and dump in Lindbergh Bay.

Elsewhere, coral is dying off. In Lindbergh Bay, it is growing. There are many new recruits of Elkhorn Coral, a threatened species. There are 25 nassau grouper, also a protected species and commercially extinct. After the CZM approved the dumping, a 600 pound Leatherback Turtle, an endangered species, in protest, climbed up on the beach and made her nest of eggs right in front of guests of the Island Beachcomber Resort. National Geographic wrote a story about the Leatherback Turtle, fondly named “Lindy” by those seeking to protect the bay. http://blogs.nationalgeographic.com/blogs/news/chiefeditor/2009/07/leatherback-turtle-virgin-islands.html

Lindbergh Bay is home to Hawksbill Turtles and Green Turtles, both also protected by the ESA.  Elsewhere around St. Thomas, seagrasses have been dying off at an alarming rate. The green turtles who live in these waters surrounding St. Thomas have fewer and fewer food sources. There is runoff in many places around this island. The VI Water and Power Authority, (WAPA) is currently polluting Lindbergh Bay, and still the bay is resilient.  The seagrass beds are lush, and plentiful, and 90% turtlegrass, but much of the grasses are as shallow as 12 feet, which would have been destroyed by heavy props and thrusters pushing barge loads of sludge to be dumped in this beautiful bay.

The sea grass beds of Lindbergh Bay are home to literally thousands of juvenile queen conch, and these beds act as a natural filter for sediment and turbidity. If these grasses were churned up, there would be no food for the green turtles, and all of the other aquatic life in the bay would suffer as well, but none as badly as the corals and their critical habitat, because they cannot tolerate turbidity and sedimentation, and they cannot swim away, as turtles can.

Concerned citizens formed the Coalition to Save Lindbergh Bay, and Clarence Payne, a staunch environmentalist who grew up in St. Thomas, was elected President. They held many meetings and  Emerald Beach Resort, Carib Beach Resort and the Island Beachcomber hosted fundraisers with bands, food, raffles and Save Lindbergh Bay T shirts. Petitions were circulated around the islands.  Many people wrote scores of Letters to the Editor which were published in the Virgin Islands Daily News

Eddie Donoghue, a writer, environmental citizen’s advocate, radio show host and long time resident of St. Thomas, spent many hundreds of hours reviewing the documents, hearings, and evidence available, as well as unearthing facts and learning the history of Lindbergh Bay.

Other environmentalists culled through hundreds of documents and prepared a volume of exhibits to be used in an appeal by the National Wildlife Foundation, and the Environmental Association of St. Thomas and St. John [EAST]. We citizens were never permitted to see the full lab report on the dredge spoils, although the full report was subpoenaed more than once, even by a member of the VI Senate. The current DPNR quickly permitted this dredging and dumping.

Governor de Jongh is a member of the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force. Governor de Jongh said in his letter dated March 30, 2009, that he was gratified to learn that dumping dredge spoils in Lindbergh Bay “will not compromise, but will improve the quality of the water…”  [March 30, 2009 Letter from Governor DeJongh.]

The concerned citizens of the Virgin Islands were not all allowed to attend the CZM hearing. CZM was notified in advance of the large numbers of citizens planning to attend the meeting, but declined to hold the hearing at a larger facility, although it had done so in the past for other hearings. Thus, not all citizens could hear or be heard on this highly publicized, highly criticized permit application. The CZM agreed to the dumping, even though key analyses and materials were not included with the application.

The VI Legislature’s Deputy Chief Legal Counsel Tharpes advised, in detail, why the CZM issuance of the Coastal Zone Permit was inconsistent with the requirements of the CZM Act, and was therefore illegal. Nevertheless, the The Senate Committee on Planning and Environmental Protection of the VI Legislature ratified the permit.

Two local attorneys, for the Coalition to Save Lindbergh Bay and the National Wildlife Federation  and local affiliate EAST appealed the CZM decision to the Board of Land Use Appeals. However, at that time the Board was not functioning, since the Governor had not appointed enough members for it to be active. Thus, no one would hear or act on the appeal.

Susan Wolterbeek, a stateside attorney, a USVI citizen’s environmental advocate and President of GreenerVI.org realized that she had to do something different, because going through normal legal channels would not work.  Since the matter was being reviewed by federal agencies, she contacted the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Coordinator, Bureau Chiefs at NOAA, Coral Experts, and the Center For Biological Diversity, to form a watchdog group of consultants. The Center For Biological Diversity was responsible for submitting the scientific petition which succeeded in getting Elkhorn and Staghorn Corals placed on the U.S. Endangered Species List in 2006. [8-26-09 Letter to the Editor – Watchdog Group.]

Then,  Wolterbeek consulted with the agents of the EPA, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, (USACE) who were assigned to deal with this particular dredging and dumping permit application. After analyzing all the data and documents provided by all the other environmentalists, Wolterbeek wrote a comprehensive analysis to Jose Cedeno Maldonado, the assigned USACE Project Manager, which was published in the Virgin Islands Daily News on October 5th and 6th, 2009. [10-5-09 Part I, 10-6-09 Part II]

On October 14, 2009, Governor DeJongh announced the VI government would be withdrawing its application to dredge and dump in Lindbergh Bay.  [10-15-09 Lindbergh Bay Dump Site Scrapped]

“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.

Governor DeJongh 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.

So far, we are unaware of the task force’s conclusions as to alternative sites. Although Governor DeJongh has stated his decision not to dump in Lindbergh Bay, should a new Governor be elected this year, he or she might, or might not, follow DeJongh’s decision. It is important for us to therefore remember that this issue is not settled. If anyone has any information as to the task force’s members, meetings, actions, decisions or recommendations please write to Susan@GreenerVI.com. , and we will post the information.

Lindbergh Bay was a great success, and showed us that working together, we can accomplish so much.

There was a first Annual Lindy Day celebration on July 11, 2010, in celebration of the Leatherback Turtle, Lindy, who laid her nest of eggs on Lindbergh Bay Beach July 12, 2009. There was lots of fun and festivities all day long, including live music, a lindy hop dance contest, painting taught by local artist David Francke, and much more.

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