TO WHOM IT MAY CONCERN: The Jacksonville District of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has received an application for a Department of the Army permit pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act (33 U.S.C. §1344) and Section 10 of the Rivers and Harbors Act of 1899 (33 U.S.C. §403) as described below:
APPLICANT: Mr. Gustav James, Commissioner
U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Public Works
8244 Subbase, Charlotte Amalie
St. Thomas, USVI 00802
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect navigable waters of the United States (WOTUS) at Charlotte Amalie Harbor, Caribbean Sea. The project site is located in a 1.38-mile corridor along the shoreline of Charlotte Amalie Harbor, from west of Kronprindsens Tvaer Gade (Windward Passage Hotel) to Long Bay Road/W.G. Lewis Lane/Lovers Lane (Route 314), Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
Directions to the site are as follows: From the St. Thomas Airport head east on Route 302 approximately ¾ miles and turn right onto Route 30. Head east on route 30 for about 1.5 miles to reach the start of the project corridor.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES:
Latitude: 18.33966° N
Longitude: -64.92989° W
Basic: Roadway improvements.
Overall: Improve traffic, safety and pedestrian access conditions at Veterans Drive (Route 30), along the waterfront of Charlotte Amalie, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
BACKGROUND: The proposed project is being planned, designed and developed with a combination of local funds from the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Public Works (DPW) and federal funds from the U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). As funding agency, the FHWA is the federal lead agency responsible for ensuring the project’s compliance with the requirements of applicable federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), among others. The planning and environmental review of the proposed project began formally in the 1980’s. In collaboration with the DPW, the FHWA released a Final Environmental Impact Statement (FEIS) for the project in 1984. This FEIS evaluated 11 different alternatives for the project. Since that time, the project has been modified multiple times to reduce its potential environmental impacts and address public and agency concerns related to cultural resources, natural resources and aesthetics. To address those modifications, several Reevaluation Reports (RRs) and Environmental Assessments (EAs) have been prepared by the DPW and FHWA, which supplement the environmental compliance review and evaluation of the 1984 FEIS. On February 14, 2017, the FHA approved an EA, which evaluated additional project modifications and alternatives, leading to the selection of the final design for the project. The selected alternative or final design for the project is the subject of the permit application described in the present Public Notice. The Corps participated as cooperating agency in the preparation of the 1984 FEIS and the 2017 EA. The 2017 EA is available for public review through the DPW.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: Veterans Drive is the major east-west arterial in St. Thomas and plays an important role in connecting the eastern and western sections of the island, as an evacuation route and for emergency response vehicles. The roadway is the main access into Charlotte Amalie from the southern coastline of St. Thomas and is the primary route between the cruise ship port and the main shopping district. Veterans Drive is currently a four-lane undivided roadway from the western end of the project at Windward Passage to Tolbod Gade. The number of lanes reduces to two east of Tolbod Gade to the eastern limit of the project at Long Bay Road/W.G. Lewis Lane/Lovers Lane (Route 314). The existing lane-widths are substandard on this major roadway connecting the eastern and western end of the island of St. Thomas. The facility currently lies adjacent to an aging and deteriorating bulkhead used as a pedestrian pathway and landing facility for ferries and private boats. The roadway currently has several deficiencies including: inadequate current and future capacity; unsafe vehicular driving conditions; and a lack of a continuous pedestrian connection. It is also one of the most highly traveled roadways in the territory. The area off shore of the bulkhead, Charlotte Amalie Harbor, has been an active marine port since historic times. The marine environment has been highly impacted by man’s use. The western half of the project area has been heavily scoured by the use of the bulkhead by ferries, tenders and motor vessels. There is limited benthic colonization within the western portion of the project area. Around the Virgin Islands Legislature Building and to the eastern end of the project area, there are areas with coral colonized hard substrate and seagrass beds.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to widen and revitalize Veterans Drive to provide a tree-lined four-lane divided road with a waterfront pedestrian promenade that simultaneously addresses Charlotte Amalie’s congestion problems and create a signature pedestrian friendly environment. The work area will include a 1.38 mile long corridor along Charlotte Amalie’s waterfront. Veterans Drive is currently a 4-lane roadway with no median. The proposed Veterans Drive is a 4-lane roadway divided by an 11 foot raised median. Additionally, in order to enhance the aesthetics of the roadway, a four (4) foot landscaped buffer along with a twenty-six (26) foot promenade will be developed. The proposed promenade width between Palm Passage and Tolbod Gade varies from 30 foot to 50 foot to allocate space for a double tree row. Because of the limited upland area available to construct the project, the proposed improvement will be accomplished by placing a new seawall resulting in the placement of approximately 50 foot (average) wide section of fill into the harbor. The construction of Veterans Drive will be conducted in three (3) phases. Phase I limits extend from the Long Bay Road intersection to Hospital Gade, a distance of approximately 0.46 miles. Phase II limits extend from Hospital Gade to Kronprindsens Tvaer Gade (Windward Passage Hotel), an approximate distance of 0.92 miles. Phase II will comprise Phase IIA from Hospital Gade to Tolbod Gade and Phase IIB from Tolbod Gade to Kronprindsens Tvaer Gade. The construction of the entire project is expected to be completed by the year 2023 with a total cost of approximately $140 million.
The project will require dredging approximately 39,252 cubic yards of sediments from the bottom of Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Dredging will be done from a barge using a clamshell dredge. Dredge spoils will be dewatered on the barge and then transferred to trucks on shore for disposal in an existing landfill. The area that will be dredged will be subsequently filled as part of the 8.57 acres of fill. The project will result in permanent impact of 4.45 acres of muddy sea bottom, 1.15 acres of seagrass beds, and 2.97 acres of coral colonized hard bottom in the Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Furthermore, an additional 0.32 acres of seagrass, 0.69 acres of mud bottom, and 0.27 acres of colonized hard bottom will be temporarily impacted during project construction by barge spudding, anchoring of turbidity barriers, and sediment resuspension within the area between the new wall and the turbidity barriers.
The majority of the proposed work will be performed from the water using spud barges in the harbor. A barge access has been designed to avoid the designated cruise ship mooring area, West Indian Dock and to the greatest extent possible, private moorings within the bay. Prior to any in-water construction, approximately 8 moored vessels and their anchoring buoys within the proposed in-water work footprint will need to be relocated.
Temporary buoys will be installed along the seaward limits of the in-water work footprint in order to ensure the contractor does not work outside these limits and to warn the boating public of the construction. The buoys will be installed along the outside of the work barge corridor. The buoys will be placed by divers and anchored using screw anchors in order to minimize any impacts to the marine bottom. The buoys and anchors will be removed by divers once the project is complete.
Turbidity barriers will be placed around all in-water work prior to commencement of any dredging or fill placement and water quality sampling will be conducted to ensure that turbidity and suspended sediment concentrations outside these barriers remain within natural background levels.
The seaward side of the roadway expansion will be a quay block wall with granular backfill of different sizes to allow a gradation and stabilize the fill. Dewatering of the area behind the wall in order to complete the fill placement for the roadway expansion will be done in a controlled manner through turbidity barriers using pumps. The dewatering rate will be controlled to ensure there are no turbidity plumes outside the work area, which will also be verified through the implementation of a water quality monitoring plan. The proposed wall design for stabilizing the seaward side of the road expansion is not expected to require impact hammer pile driving. However, the contractor will have the option to use pile driving for specific construction activity such as deep utility installations and dewatering. Temporary sheet piles may be driven to allow for dewatering of the area where the seawall will be cast in place and back-filled in 400-ft segments. Any pile installation that does occur as part of the project would be done using a vibratory hammer as long as the underlying substrate allows for this type of pile driving. The design of the roadway expansion around the Legislature Building and the U.S. Coast Guard (USCG) facilities also requires modifications to the USCG dock. The dock will be modified such that the eastern section will be replaced with the new proposed roadway and the western section will be connected to the new promenade.
AVOIDANCE AND MINIMIZATION INFORMATION: The applicant has provided the following information in support of efforts to avoid and/or minimize impacts to the aquatic environment: The project footprint has been reduced through the removal of riprap to avoid impacts to aquatic resources. In order to minimize the impact to the marine environment and critical habitats from roadway improvements proposed along Veterans Drive (Route 30) a transplant mitigation plan has been proposed. Corals, seagrass and boulders within the area of impact (which extends beyond the direct impact footprint) will be transplanted prior to construction. Improvements to drainage structures along the waterfront will be made to improve water quality of runoff into the Charlotte Amalie Harbor. The coral recipient site is off Frederik Point, Hassel Island. Coral rock boulders will also be located here from the in-water work footprint. The seagrass recipient site is on the east side of Hassel Island in East Gregorie Channel. Seagrass will be transplanted into areas with boat grounding scars. Both of the recipient sites are offshore of Hassel Island, adjacent to lands that are either held by the Virgin Islands Government or part of the Virgin Islands National Park (VINP) managed by the National Park Service (NPS), so it is protected from development. Mooring and informational buoys will be installed to protect the transplant areas and to protect existing seagrass and corals. Information signage will also be placed along the waterfront promenade to educate local residents and tourists alike on the importance of our marine resources. National Marine Fisheries’ (NMFS) guidelines for marine construction and marine vessels movements are being incorporated in the construction plans. If pile driving does occur, monitoring of the identified species will be performed and NMFS guidelines for pile driving will be followed. A 500-meter (m) safety zone shall be established around the in-water work footprint to protect sea turtles and marine mammals. Trained observers will visually monitor the safety zone for at least 30 minutes prior to the start of all noise creating in-water construction activities. If a sea turtle or marine mammal is observed within the safety zone during in-water construction, work shall cease until the animal has left the area of its own volition. Turbidity barriers will be placed around all in-water work prior to commencement of any dredging or fill placement and water quality sampling will be conducted to ensure that turbidity and suspended sediment concentrations outside these barriers remain within natural background levels.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: The applicant has offered the following compensatory mitigation plan to offset unavoidable functional loss to the aquatic environment: As part of a compensatory mitigation plan for impacts that cannot be avoided, improvements to drainage structures along the waterfront will be made to help improve water quality of runoff into the bay, mooring and informational buoys will be installed to protect the coral and seagrass transplant areas and to protect existing seagrass and corals within those areas. Information signage will be placed along the waterfront promenade to educate local residents and tourists alike on the importance of our marine resources. A two-acre restoration project will be undertaken that will repair existing vessel strike damage on an offsite reef known as Triangle Reef. There are scattered broken corals that are still viable on the reef and can be re-attached to the substrate so they are not lost when storms occur and are flipped over. Loose corals will be reattached within the more than two acres of critical habitat. Buoys will also be installed to help prevent future impacts to this habitat.
CULTURAL RESOURCES: Historic buildings and structures are located in uplands within and immediately adjacent to the project corridor. The project is within the Charlotte Amalie Historic District, which includes the Legislature Building, also individually listed on the National Register, and Fort Christian, also individually listed as a National Historic Landmark, and King’s Warf. As stated above, the federal lead agency for the proposed project is the FHWA. Therefore, the FHWA is the federal agency responsible for complying with the consultation requirements required by Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) for the conservation of historic resources. In the evaluation of this permit application, the Corps will reference and incorporate the results and determinations of the Section 106 of the NHPA consultation completed by the FHWA with the U.S. Virgin Islands State Historic Preservation Officer (VISHPO) for the proposed project.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: According to the information provided by the applicant, the federally listed threatened Green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), the federally listed endangered Hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata) are known to occur in the waters of Charlotte Amalie Harbor. Based on the sightings information from other recently authorized construction projects in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, sea turtles are not common close to shore but rather are more commonly found in waters around Hassel Island, Water Island, and the entrances to the harbor. Potential foraging habitat for both hawksbill and green turtles in the form of seagrass beds and coral colonized areas occur within the project’s footprint and near the proposed project area in the outer bay. Much of the area to be impacted is in shallow water along the shoreline next to a busy road, where sea turtles are unlikely to be present. There are areas of extensive seagrass beds and numerous areas containing coral reefs and colonized hard bottom in deeper areas of Charlotte Amalie Harbor that can be utilized by green and hawksbill sea turtles.
Federally protected staghorn, rough cactus, boulder star, or mountainous star corals were not observed during the benthic surveys conducted in Charlotte Amalie Harbor, within or in the vicinity of the proposed project footprint. However, these four coral species may be present around Hassel Island or in reefs near the harbor entrance outside of the surveyed areas. On the other hand, federally protected elkhorn corals were located at various locations within Charlotte Amalie Harbor, but outside of the footprint of the proposed project. The nearest elkhorn coral colonies are located near Hassel Island, approximately 550 m from the westernmost end of the Veterans Drive project.
The hard bottom habitat that will be directly affected by the proposed project is not part of the elkhorn and staghorn coral designated critical habitat, since Charlotte Amalie Harbor was explicitly excluded from this critical habitat by NMFS (50 CFR 226.216(c)(3)(xi)). The western side of Hassel Island and reefs and colonized hard bottom outside the mouth of the harbor are located within the boundaries of the elkhorn and staghorn coral designated critical habitat, and do contain areas with the essential feature of elkhorn and staghorn coral designated critical habitat.
Individuals of the Nassau grouper were not observed within or in the vicinity of the project area during the benthic surveys and inspections conducted for the planning of the proposed project. However as stated above, there are extensive seagrass beds, coral reefs, and colonized hard bottom in the vicinity of the project area, so it is possible that Nassau grouper are present in these habitats.
As stated above, the federal lead agency for the proposed project is the FHWA. Therefore, the FHWA is the federal agency responsible for complying with the consultation requirements of Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA) for this project. In the evaluation of this permit application, the Corps will reference and incorporate the results and determinations of the Section 7 of the ESA consultations completed by the FHWA with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) and the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for the proposed project.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): According to the project description provided above, the proposed project will result in direct impacts to approximately 8.57 acres of marine bottom, including seagrass beds, coral colonized hardbottom areas, and uncolonized muddy bottom, which may be utilized by various life stages of some of the federally managed fish species within the U.S. Caribbean. As stated above, the federal lead agency for the proposed project is the FHWA. Therefore, the FHWA is the federal agency responsible for complying with the consultation requirements required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1996 (MSA) for the conservation of Essential Fish Habitat (EFH). In the evaluation of this permit application, the Corps will reference and incorporate the results and determinations of the MSA consultation completed by the FHWA with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for the proposed project.
NOTE: This public notice is being issued based on information furnished by the applicant. This information has not been verified or evaluated to ensure compliance with laws and regulation governing the regulatory program.
AUTHORIZATION FROM OTHER AGENCIES: A Water Quality Certificate from the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Environmental Resources, Division of Environmental Protection (DPNR-DEP) will be required.
COMMENTS regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer through the Antilles Permits Section, Fund. Angel Ramos Annex, Suite 202, 383 F.D. Roosevelt Ave., San Juan, Puerto Rico 00918, within 20 days from the date of this notice.
The decision whether to issue or deny this permit application will be based on the information received from this public notice and the evaluation of the probable impact to the associated waters of the United States (WOTUS). This is based on an analysis of the applicant's avoidance and minimization efforts for the project, as well as the compensatory mitigation proposed.
QUESTIONS concerning this application should be directed to the project manager, José A. Cedeño-Maldonado, in writing at the Antilles Permits Section, Fund. Angel Ramos Annex, Suite 202, 383 F.D. Roosevelt Ave., San Juan, Puerto Rico 00918, by electronic mail at email@example.com or by telephone at (787) 729-6944.
IMPACT ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Services, and other Federal, State, and local agencies, environmental groups, and concerned citizens generally yields pertinent environmental information that is instrumental in determining the impact the proposed action will have on the natural resources of the area.
EVALUATION: The decision whether to issue a permit will be based on an evaluation of the probable impact including cumulative impacts of the proposed activity on the public interest. That decision will reflect the national concern for both protection and utilization of important resources. The benefits, which reasonably may be expected to accrue from the proposal, must be balanced against its reasonably foreseeable detriments. All factors which may be relevant to the proposal will be considered including cumulative impacts thereof; among these are conservation, economics, aesthetics, general environmental concerns, wetlands, historical properties, fish and wildlife values, flood hazards, floodplain values, land use, navigation, shoreline erosion and accretion, recreation, water supply and conservation, water quality, energy needs, safety, food, and fiber production, mineral needs, considerations of property ownership, and in general, the needs and welfare of the people. Evaluation of the impact of the activity on the public interest will also include application of the guidelines promulgated by the Administrator, EPA, under authority of Section 404(b) of the Clean Water Act of the criteria established under authority of Section 102(a) of the Marine Protection Research and Sanctuaries Act of 1972. A permit will be granted unless its issuance is found to be contrary to the public interest.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is soliciting comments from the public; Federal, State, and local agencies and officials; Indian Tribes; and other Interested parties in order to consider and evaluate the impacts of this proposed activity. Any comments received will be considered by the Corps to determine whether to issue, modify, condition, or deny a permit for this proposal. To make this decision, comments are used to assess impacts on endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are used in the complete the procedures, evaluation and documentation required pursuant to the National Environmental Policy Act. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT CONSISTENCY: In the Virgin Islands, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Coastal Zone Management permit constitutes compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Plan.
REQUEST FOR PUBLIC HEARING: Any person may request a public hearing. The request must be submitted in writing to the District Engineer within the designated comment period of the notice and must state the specific reasons for requesting the public hearing.