The SEA Solution

For questions or comments on the SEA Solution, please contact
Michael Baron, Acting Chair — (340)773-1989

Less controversy. Much less impact.
More attractive to investors.

Everybody wants the MREC. How to ensure it happens is the problem. The current siting on federal land adjacent to Bio Bay is opposed by environmentalists, offends neighbors, and has experienced difficulty finding funding since its inception. Developing a solution to answer all the objections and still provide the required facilities has engaged the St. Croix Environmental Association (SEA) for over two years. Our goal is to preserve the bioluminescence, fulfill all the requirements of the MREC project, reduce impacts on Salt River, and encourage funding of the project. The result is a plan that has a better chance of success than the contentious plan that sites this much-needed facility adjacent to an extremely rare world-class environmental feature. The alternate site SEA suggests at the head of the Haul Road (Fig. 1) places the facility on high ground overlooking Triton Bay, with a view over Cape of the Arrows and Bio Bay. On a logical site at the entrance to SARI, the Administration building is accessible to the staff, students, and the public without entering the park proper or impacting any of the sensitive areas within. Security is enhanced for the entire facility (and neighbors) and impacts from pollution, traffic, light pollution and mishaps are minimized or eliminated.

If sited on V.I. Territorial land, private investors would be able to name their donation, a strong incitement for donors that is not allowed on federal land. Buildings, labs, dorms, and facilities could be financed much more easily.

The subject of over 10 years of development and 18 months of scientific studies, the existing plan does not manage for or consider the economic or environmental values of the extremely rare year-round bioluminescent phenomenon. The recent Bioluminescence Symposium presented data upon which to base a management plan to preserve the phenomenon for future study and education, and cited the factors that will degrade and could destroy it. The SEA option takes into consideration all the requirements of the MREC and mitigates development impacts on Bio Bay and the Cape of the Arrows.

SEA strongly recommends the adoption of this plan that reduces controversy and protects our valuable and unique environment. The appendix to this document details the arguments and objections and how to avoid them.

There are strong advocates on both sides of this issue. The question that divides them is whether the building site or the establishment of a research and educational product should take priority, and whether the preservation of Bio Bay is included in the planning for the MREC and SARI. If the scientific and educational work is the driver for the MREC, the likelihood of success is greater with SEA’s proposed alternative model than with the original concept and siting, no matter how downscaled and modified. It’s the site that’s in question, not the purpose or value of the MREC.

The Environmental Argument:
The subject of numerous forthcoming research papers, the bioluminescent mangrove lagoon we call Bio Bay exhibits the phenomenon on a par with Mosquito Bay, Veiques, the acknowledged premier world-class bioluminescent bay. Though the current stated plan is for a “dark campus” there is no way to eliminate spill from safety and security lighting, room lighting, and headlights on the long access road and in the planned parking lot immediately adjacent to the north end of Bio Bay. Nor is there a way to ensure that oil and other petroleum products, emissions, and pollutants will not impact the watershed from vehicles and boats. The only way to be sure that normal operation of the MREC does not adversely affect critical parts of its immediate environs is to move it. Luckily, a more appropriate site exists within the park bounds.

The Economic Argument:
If sited on federal land, private-sector investors would not be able to name their donated facility nor receive the credit large contributors often require for their philanthropic activity. Sited at the alternate location, everything from buildings and labs to benches and dorms could carry the names of the donors. Having their credits on literature from the four Consortium members, the NPS and the U.S. Department of the Interior will be a strong inducement in any fundraising effort.

The Neighbors’ Argument:
Homeowners, though eager to see the MREC located on St. Croix, do not want their viewshed “ruined,” in their opinion, by an extensive campus all of whose features are contiguous and require an expansive area that includes dorms, administration, interpretive presentations, lecture halls and classrooms, parking lots, and maintenance and vehicle sheds. Light pollution, noise, the normal activity of a vibrant campus and planned day and night public events all conspire to change their neighborhood in a way they do not favor and actively oppose. The Upper Haul Road site answers all their objections. Buffered by wooded slopes from the noise, lights, and activity, yet providing ample sunlight for solar panel efficiency, this alternative site is not in the viewshed of any nearby homes and offers an intimate, secluded area for dorms and administrative and public functions.

The Aesthetic Argument:
As a world-class year-round attraction Bio Bay’s beauty astounds visitors and residents alike. It is a magnet for the curious minds of students and adults alike, and elevates St. Croix to the ranks of a “must-see” feature akin to Mosquito Bay, Vieques. The issue is far greater than the simple preservation of a single organism; Bio Bay has 3 bioluminescent organisms that are active year-round:

  • Pyrodinium bahamense – the creator of the clouds of white to intense blue swirls of light, and the dominant phytoplankton in the lagoon.
  • Ctenophores – comb jellies that create the softball-size intense green flashes when disturbed.
  • Odontosyllis – tiny marine worms that create the monthly display of green “lily pads” after the full moon as part of their mating dance.
This richness is extremely rare and may be unique to Bio Bay, where the exquisite balance of currents, nutrients, residence time of the water, and, of course, the mangrove ecology conspire to support this range of engaging BL organisms that create wonder in viewers. Unfortunately preservation of these organisms and the BL phenomenon in general has not been part of the calculation of the value and management of Bio Bay and the prestige and attraction for scientific study, tourism, and education it could bring to St. Croix. This is an egregious oversight in light of the proven status of Bio Bay as a world-class, year-round bioluminescent lagoon, and its value as a unique attraction of Salt River Bay National Park. SEA recommends following the conclusions of the recent studies to establish protocols for the use and maintenance of the lagoon, and limiting or eliminating light pollution from residential lighting and street lights, which would be impossible with the current NPS siting.

The Upper Haul Road Site:
Inside the NPS gate from Benny Benjamin Drive to Upper Haul Road there is land on the east and west owned by the V.I. Government that is eminently buildable and secluded. Just off the public road, it’s sheltered from hurricanes to the east by Estate St. George, and to the west by Triton ridge, relatively level at 120’ above sea level and overlooking the mangroves of Triton Bay. SEA’s model, more like a Caribbean town, incorporates a separate Admin building that includes the classrooms and public spaces on the west side of the road and a number of 4-unit “pod” dorms on the east side that would house 8-10 students each and could be built as required, in phases. Traffic within the park is eliminated through the use of electric vehicles, with accommodation for emergency vehicles. Any impacts on the park interior and Cape of the Arrows, especially Bio Bay, are eliminated.

Backtracking and Expenses:
Significant financial outlays have been made over the course of the MREC project. A major cost was the EAR. 80% of the EAR is still valid, and the work to evaluate the Upper Haul Road site is minimal considering the overall investment to date. The NPS plan has changed radically over the course of the project. It has been downsized; the layout and plan has changed many times; great efforts have been made for over 10 years to finance the project without success. The investment in SEA’s optional plan will afford economy, efficiency, and a new field of private investment on V.I. Territorial land.

Figure 1: Topographic map with V.I. Territorial site highlighted.
Plot 101-23

MREC Alternate Siting within SARI Bounds I

Marine Lab
Situated in the existing Contact Center, provides climate control, secure from weather and intrusion, and classroom and display spaces.
Floating outside Bio Bay, provides access to east side, Dorms, Admin, and Outpost facility. Keeps motorized boat traffic outside Bio Bay.
Admin/Public/Dorms – See Haul Road Detail “MREC Alternate SARI Areas II
Situated along Upper Haul Road on V.I. Territorial land, provides better traffic and visitor control, dorm security, classrooms, common and meeting rooms.

MREC Alternate Siting within SARI Bounds I
Details & Advantages

Marine Lab – Establishing the Marine Lab inside the existing SARI Contact Center:
  • Reduced Cost.
  • Secure Facility.
  • Seawater piping equal length to east side location.
  • Less neighborhood noise from traffic, emergency generator and other mechanicals.
Dock – Siting the dock at the south bluff of the old hotel site:
  • Reduced cost for double duty; a dock would be needed for the proposed Outpost, too.
  • Clear of Bio Bay and possible harmful impacts from construction near the lagoon.
  • Fueling can be done from bladders; bulk storage at Admin. Fuel delivery occurs well away from sensitive areas.
Admin/Public/Dorms – Situated along entry section east and west of Upper Haul Road:
  • Proximity to gate eliminates road traffic and impacts within SARI from deliveries, visitors, and students/staff. Shorter access road reduces cost, light pollution.
  • Provides traffic and visitor control, dorm security, classrooms, commons and meeting rooms.
  • Can be built in phases as accommodation for students and researchers are required.
  • Transportation within SARI should be limited to electric carts except for special cases; emergency vehicles and heavy transport.
  • Buildings and MREC activities out of the viewshed of closest residents.

This alternative avoids the primary objection of environmentalists and nearby residents related to activity, noise, and light pollution, and avoids, as much as possible, deleterious effects on Bio Bay.
It depends upon a number of prerequisites:

  • Use of the V.I .Government land adjacent to the east side of the Haul Road.
  • Concurrent jurisdiction US/VI for the Admin/Public/Dorm area.
  • NPS agreement to site the Marine Lab in the Contact Center if not in Admin building.
  • Consortium consensus to change siting to achieve lower costs and a phased project.
  • Permit approvals for Dock construction and marine activities from US and V.I. agencies.

The Opposition

The success of the MREC project depends on several intangibles as well. The current opposition to the project has four primary bases:

  1. The fear of damage and negative effects on the bioluminescence; that the economic potential of the resource will be affected or destroyed; the failure of the NPS to manage or include bioluminescence in any planning.
  2. the loss of quality of life for neighbors if the project “paves paradise,”
  3. the sense that the project is mucking about with Salt River, a cherished environmental and historical resource that should be protected and enhanced, rather than dismissed as a brownfield where anything new is an improvement, and
  4. the perception that the facility is for the use and enjoyment of statesiders, and public access will be limited for locals and traditional users (fishermen, surfers, hikers, birdwatchers, etc.), having only marginal indirect local benefit.

These objections, though surfacing late in the process, will become stronger as the MREC plans are developed and made public, and places the NPS and the Consortium in an adversary position with the people who would be avid supporters of the project were their objections and fears addressed. As far as they are concerned this is the first day of the project and they’re not concerned with the expense in time and money that has brought us to this point. The MREC concept enjoys wide approval and virtually every objection is about impacts of the siting near Bio Bay and within the viewshed of neighbors.

Answering the opposition arguments:

  • Environment: Don’t affect Bio Bay. Make it part of the management plan for SARI. Plan to monitor and enhance the bioluminescent and develop it as an economic resource with its own protective protocols for private and commercial use. Institute a monitoring regime to assess and ensure the continued health of the bioluminescent community.
  • Neighbors: Stay out of the viewshed of the neighbors as much as possible. Limit noise, light pollution, and vehicular traffic to a minimum. Use electric vehicles within the park.
  • History and Culture: Place the same valuation on SARI as the traditional users do. Artificial? Brownfield? Not to locals. Bio Bay was created by man, but the bioluminescence is a natural occurrence, and a wonder to be preserved.
  • Local Sentiment: Craft a public relations campaign that emphasizes the MREC’s value to St. Croix’s students and traditional users, and clearly define the parameters of public access and an enhanced SARI park experience for visitors and locals. Originally stated as only months long, the closure to the public for some years has eroded good relations between the community and the NPS.

Shifting the focus of the project off historical Cape of the Arrows and rethinking the “contiguous campus” model in favor of a “village” model with nodes of activity suited to their location, and using existing facilities, will bring in new private partners and support of many kinds.

SEA agrees with the NPS and the Consortium in siting the MREC within the SARI bounds. SEA’s solution is a viable and reasonable alternative if park siting for all the elements is the primary concern.

MREC Alternate Siting within SARI Bounds II
Haul Road Detail

Advantages and Economies

Admin/Public/Parking/ Maintenance/Mechanicals – Situated on V.I. Territorial land (Plot 101-23)
  • Allows public access and parking to Admin area without vehicle access to SARI sensitive areas or MREC student areas with placement of new gate past Admin driveway. Evening programs, student project presentations, and business offices are very close to public road (Benny Benjamin Drive).
  • Greatly reduces vehicular traffic within SARI and attendant spills, leaks, and mistakes. Eliminates pollution from gas and diesel vehicles. Electric vehicles used internally.
  • Reduces need to clear and pave entire Haul Road for 2-way traffic; only top section to Admin driveway need be paved or widened to DOT spec. The present well-maintained dirt and gravel road continues after the new gate.
  • Placing the parking areas to the north of the buildings clears the view of SARI and the sea (144’ ASL).
  • Eliminates light pollution in sensitive bioluminescent Bio Bay.
  • Reduces impact on Bio Bay.
Dorm Pods/Student Commons – Situated on V.I. Territorial land (Plot 101-23)
  • Pod concept is scalable and allows phased construction to meet demand and funding throughout project.
  • Student noise and light from normal activity is buffered from neighbors by distance and vegetation.
  • Pod concept allows room assignments by discipline and class/field activity scheduling without disturbing other pods.
  • Activities in student common areas are separated from Admin and visitor activities.
  • Eliminates light pollution in sensitive bioluminescent Bio Bay that degrades the visibility of the phenomenon.
  • Reduces all impacts on Bio Bay.

Shifting the focus of the project off the Cape of the Arrows and rethinking the “contiguous campus” model in favor of a “village” model with nodes of activity suited to their location and using existing facilities could bring in new partners and support of many kinds, as well as defusing controversial aspects of MREC.

For questions or comments on the SEA Solution, please contact
Michael Baron, Acting Chair — (340)773-1989