VIRCD, NOAA and CBCC Officially Launch Watershed Restoration Project

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Cutline: (L to R) CBCC president Sharon Coldren, Attorney William Blum, VIRCD president Diane Capeheart, GBS teacher Brenda Brown, Governor John deJongh, NOAA’s Samuel Rauch, Dept. of Agriculture Commissioner Louis Petersen and Dept. of Pulic Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls with the GBS third grade class.

Armed with a $1.4 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the Coral Bay Community Council is set to stem the tide of storm water runoff.

Plumes of runoff that turn Coral Bay harbor a murky brown during rains will soon be a thing of the past thanks to a coordinated effort between V.I. Resources Conservation and Development Council, CBCC, NOAA and several other local and federal agencies.

Governor John deJongh was among the local dignitaries who gathered at the Coral Bay Department of Agriculture Station on Wednesday morning, April 14, to celebrate the official ground breaking of the Coral Bay watershed stabilization project.

CBCC’s $1.4 million is a portion of the total $2.78 million granted by NOAA to the territory for three separate projects. The projects were all born from the federal government. In February 2009, NOAA was awarded $167 million from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to restore coastal habitats and create jobs.

Estate Fish Bay Homeowners Association and CBCC joined forces with VIRCD, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, the Nature Conservancy and the University of the Virgin Islands to compete for a portion of NOAA’s federal stimulus funds.

The Virgin Islands projects were one of only 50 projects selected out of more than 800 proposals submitted to NOAA. In addition to the Coral Bay projects, NOAA’s $2.78 million grant to the territory will  be used for Estate Fish Bay road work and repairing a watershed at East End Bay on St. Croix.

The Estate Fish Bay work commenced several months ago and crews should be finished paving roads and installing swales and other storm water retention devices within the next few weeks.

The $1.4 million grant being implemented by CBCC will cover the cost of 18 different projects in six sub-watersheds in the Coral Bay area. Concern for the watershed and impacts of runoff — evident during rains when the bay turns brown from sediment — have been important to” to “have been on the mids of residents for years.

CBCC President Sharon Coldren

When the 200-member CBCC was formed in 2003, the group hosted a series of “visioning” sessions to get an idea of the issues residents deemed important, explained CBCC president Sharon Coldren.

“We asked our members the most important issues to them and storm water runoff and protection of the environment were their biggest concerns,” said Coldren. “CBCC has been committed to this ever since. We began to look for ways to address these concerns with both local and federal agencies.”

With a $300,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the group was able to hire a storm water engineer and aggressively pursue a portion of NOAA’s stimulus funds.

VIRCD president Diane Capeheart was proud of her organization’s role in securing the funding to improve watersheds throughout the Virgin Islands.

“We were one out of only 50 projects to be awarded these funds,” said Capeheart. “This is a significant achievement and a benefit to our island communities to protect our habitats, improve our infrastructure and create jobs. I look forward to making things happen through VIRCD.”

When local and federal governments work together with community organizations, everyone benefits, explained NOAA’s deputy assistant administrator for regulatory programs Samuel Rauch.

“It’s the collaborative nature of these projects which makes them a success,” said Rauch. “A healthy economy and a healthy environment go hand in hand. Investing in our coastal habitats benefits tourism opportunities, out of work fishermen and employs skilled laborers.”

A major part of the NOAA grant process was having “shovel ready” projects which were able to get started as soon as funding became available, Rauch added.

Governor deJongh takes time to shake hands with GBS students during the watershed launch ceremony.

“Shovel ready projects like these are especially important since we’re still recovering from the worst recession this country has seen since the Great Depression,” said Rauch. “Shovel ready projects get people to work and protect the environment.”

In addition to reducing the sediment load in the Coral Bay watershed, the coastal restoration project could serve as a Caribbean-wide model, Rauch added.

“This will set a model for future watershed projects across the Caribbean and nation-wide,” he said. “What we learn here we want to use nation-wide.”

On his way to the Coral Bay ceremony, deJongh was reminded how beautiful the area is, explained the governor.

“This is a very beautiful place and we must protect it while balancing growth and development,” said deJongh. “This grant is a tremendous effort toward that objective. What we’re trying to achieve is measured growth.”

Hiring St. John principle planner Stuart Smith and moving ahead with several other projects are all part of the “measured growth” the island needs, deJongh explained.

“Our hope is that by hiring a principle planner for the island of St. John, that growth will be advantageous and growth that takes us forward,” said the governor. “Frank Powell Park RFPs going out soon, creating parking in Cruz Bay and repairing roads on the South Shore are all part of what is taking place. We couldn’t be here without the NGOs and private sector partnerships.”

“We can move this island forward by coming together,” said deJongh. “By working together we can overcome any hurdle.”

Senator at Large Craig Barshinger also applauded the cooperative effort which resulted in the project.
“I applaud all the agencies who are working together for this project,” said the senator at large. “Today we are breaking down walls and linking arms to protect the beauty here. We have many treasures here — the people, the culture the climate, the land and sea — and let’s keep all of them in tact.”

After the ceremony at the Coral By Agriculture Station, the group walked down King Hill Road to a site where taking out a simple knee wall is expected to considerably reduce the amount of runoff that usually flows down the road to the bay.

Local dignitaries and NOAA officials were met at the site by third graders from Guy Benjamin School, who helped officially launch the watershed restoration project.

Other dignitaries at the event included DPNR’s Dept of Agriculature Commissioner Louis Petersen, Department of Sports, Parks and Recreation Commissioner St. Claire Williams, Department of Public Works Commissioner Darryl Smalls, and Attorney William Blum.