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 standard 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: Andrew Osborne, CREF3 USVI Hotel Owner, Inc. (CREF3)
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect marine waters offshore of Frenchman’s Reef/Morningstar at Morningstar Bay, Parcel No. 5-A Estate Bakkero, No. 5 Frenchman’s Bay, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
DIRECTIONS TO THE SITE: From the town of Charlotte Amalie take Highway 30, Frenchman's Bay Road, to the east to Highway 315. Frenchman's Reef is at the terminus of the road.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES: Latitude 18.3201°
Basic: Prevent future erosion of the shoreline and re-establish the beach.
Overall: Prevent erosion of the shoreline and re-establish the beach to pre-Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria conditions. Protect existing infrastructure, resort facilities, beach, and shoreline from future storms and sea level rise associated with climate change.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The site contains an existing resort which is currently undergoing renovation and repairs. The entire resort facility has been closed down since the hurricanes. The beach shoreline at Morningstar is approximately 1,400 linear feet in length. In 2017, the North Atlantic Hurricane Season observed two back to back category V Hurricanes, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria. These storms occurred within a 14-day period causing significant damage to the Morningstar shoreline. The volume of sand lost prevented the beach from recovering to its historic width and shape. The lack of beach volume made the shoreline and adjacent infrastructure vulnerable to storms during the 2019 hurricane season, resulting in severe erosion and infrastructure damage. The existing seawalls were undermined, and the building foundations were exposed, making them vulnerable to further degradation from contact with waves.
Morningstar Bay has excellent water quality. The seafloor within the project footprint consists entirely of sand. Prior to the 2017 hurricanes there were some sea grasses widely scattered throughout the bay, but these were lost as a result of the storms. The marine environment surrounding the property has scattered diverse hard and soft coral communities including Acropora palmata, A. cervicornis, Orbicella annularis, O. franksi, O, faveolata, and Dendrogyra cylindrus all of which are on the endangered species list. The hardbottom habitats which surround the points and are found offshore around Triangle Reef are protected as critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn corals. The project has been designed to completely avoid direct impacts to coral, seagrass, and hardbottom habitats that provide suitable habitat for coral recolonization.
PROPOSED WORK: The applicant seeks authorization to install shoreline stabilization structures along the beach, nourish the beach with sand, construct an offshore breakwater that would serve as an artificial reef, install buoys to demarcate swimming areas, and construct a stormwater conveyance structure. Equipment and materials would be delivered to the site via water-side access (landing barge) to avoid impact to public roadways.
Shoreline Stabilization Structures: The shoreline portion of the proposed work includes the installation of a 1,250-foot-long buried revetment constructed entirely landward of the high tide line. In order to construct it, it would require 6,000 cubic yards (cy) of clean gravel or suitable structural fill, 5,600 cy of armor stone, and 530 cy of sand. It also includes two headlands that total 400 feet in length. In order to construct the headlands, it would require 5,000 cubic yards (cy) of clean fill (1,500 cy would be seaward of the high tide line) and 2,000 cy of armor stone (900 cy would be seaward of the high tide line). The clean fill would be used behind the geotextile lined riprap and would be topped with up to 2 feet of sand. All sand imported from a different site must be similar to that existing at the Morningstar Beach in both color and grain size distribution. Machinery that would likely be used includes small backhoes, cranes, front loaders, and graders.
Beach Nourishment: To restore the beach to its original width, 15,000 cubic yards of sand would be placed on Morningstar Beach (10,000 cy would be seaward of the high tide line). The sand would be placed and groomed such that the dynamic natural transport process would create a natural beach profile. All sand must be similar to that existing at Morningstar Beach in both color and grain size distribution.
Offshore Breakwater: To dissipate wave energy, three separate offshore artificial reef/breakwater structures would be constructed at the entrance to Morningstar Bay. In total, the three breakwaters would occupy 1.2 acres of the seafloor and require 14,000 cubic yards of armor stone, 6,700 cubic yards of core fill material, and 107,000 square feet of geotextile fabric. The core fill material, comprised of clean rock and gravel fill, would be placed at the center of each breakwater structure on top of geotextile fabric. Geotextile fabric would be placed around the core fill material and 14,000 cubic yards of two-ton armor stone would be placed over the fabric. From west to east the approximate size of each structure at the base would be 220 feet (ft) by 60 ft, 470 ft by 60 ft, and 210 ft by 60 ft. There would be 70 feet between the structures. Additionally, there would be 140 feet between the structure and the mean low water (MLW) mark to the west and 160 feet between the breakwater and the MLW mark to the east. Each breakwater would have two solar lights for navigation installed at each end. Construction equipment would be operated from barges in the water. The rocks would be lifted and placed using a grapple, sling, or thumb bucket attached to a crane or excavator, or other methods as deemed appropriate by the contractor.
Swim Buoys: Buoys and their anchoring systems would be installed to designate swimming areas. A total of 580 linear feet of swim buoys would be installed in Morningstar Bay. This system would have approximately 10-12 buoys. The buoys would be white in color with reflective indicators and demarcated with “Swim Area” label. Each buoy would be installed in the sandy bottom with a helical-type anchoring system, connected with a stainless steel chain and a snubber cord to withstand waves and hydrodynamics. The system would allow for the 580 linear feet of floating buoy line to be moved operationally to allow controlled vessel movement in indicated areas. An example detail is provided in the drawing set.
Stormwater Conveyance Structure: In order to convey the stormwater from the uplands, a stormwater conveyance structure would be installed on the eastern end of Morningstar Bay. The purpose of the structure is to provide improved conveyance of stormwater and to route stormwater away from the beach nourishment to protect the beach from a blowout-type failure due to upland water pressure. The structure would be 225 ft long by 32 ft wide. 725 cubic yards of core material would be placed on geotextile fabric (325 cy would be seaward of the high tide line). Another layer of geotextile fabric would be placed over the core fill material and 550 cy of 2-ton armor stone would be placed over the fill (200 cy would be seaward of the high tide line). This structure would be built from the land, as the crest elevation is wide enough to support land-based machinery.
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 has been designed to avoid direct impacts to corals, seagrass, and hardbottom habitat and to minimize indirect impacts to these resources through best management practices and conservation measures. Adjacent marine resources including sea grass and corals should not be impacted because the applicant is proposing to implement extensive turbidity controls and actively monitor water quality. Sand placed to nourish the beach must be similar to that already existing at the beach in both color and grain size. The applicant has submitted and will implement a water quality and environmental monitoring plan.
Standard Construction Conditions established for the sea turtles by the National Marine
Fisheries Service and Vessel Strike Avoidance Measures and Reporting for Mariners will be implemented during the project construction. Construction activities will be monitored for sea turtles. If a sea turtle or marine mammal ventures into the 500 meter safety zone work will stop until such time the sea turtle leaves the area of its own volition. In order to ensure that no nests are impacted a 60-day beach monitoring program will be implemented prior to start of shoreline work. If nests are seen, they will be avoided until turtles emerge or are deemed unsuccessful by the U.S. Virgin Islands Division of Fish and Wildlife. U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service conservation measures for the West Indian Manatee will be implemented.
Silt fencing will be placed seaward of all areas of earthwork and maintained until the area is stabilized. Turbidity barriers will be installed to surround all areas of in-water work. These barriers will be of proper length reaching one foot from the seafloor. A double set of barriers will be installed if a single set of curtains is not adequate to control turbidity created by the placement of the armor stone and sand and construction of the piers. Barriers will be maintained daily until such time all work is complete and turbidity returns to ambient.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: CREF 3 has submitted and will implement a compensatory mitigation plan to offset unavoidable loss to the aquatic environment. CREF 3 would retain the services of a qualified biologist to collect and outplant 1,320 corals of opportunity that are protected under the Endangered Species Act. Viable corals and coral fragments will be collected from the seafloor where they have been dislodged and transported from suitable habitat either by storm events or human activities (e.g., anchoring). The corals will be attached to the artificial reef breakwaters by trained professionals and will be monitored to ensure 85% survival. If the 85% survival performance standard is not met, contingency measures will be implemented. The goal would be to outplant Acropora palmata, A. cervicornis, Orbicella annularis, O. franksi, O, faveolata, and Dendrogyra cylindrus on to the breakwater structures since all are found in the wider project vicinity.
CULTURAL RESOURCES: The Corps is evaluating the undertaking for effects to historic properties as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. The Corps is not aware of historic properties within or in close proximity of the permit area. The areas of shoreline which would be modified have been altered by the recent storm events, and past activities. No vessels or other debris other than a lawn chair frame was found during the benthic surveys. This public notice serves to inform the public of the proposed undertaking and invites comments including those from local, territorial, and federal government agencies with respect to historic resources. Our final determination relative to historic resource impacts may be subject to additional coordination with the State Historic Preservation Officer pursuant to 33 CFR 325, Appendix C and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS): The Corps has determined the proposed project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect the following species and critical habitat under the NMFS’s purview: green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas), leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), giant manta ray (Manta birostris), scalloped hammerhead shark (Sphyrna lewini), oceanic white-tipped shark (Carcharinus lonigmanus), elkhorn coral (Acropora palmata), staghorn coral (Acropora cervicornis), boulder star coral (Orbicella franksi), mountainous star coral (Orbicella faveolata), lobed star coral (Orbicella annularis), rough cactus coral (Mycetophyllia ferox), and pillar coral (Dendrogyra cylindrus). The project is not located near designated critical habitat for sea turtles. The project lies within designated critical habitat for elkhorn and staghorn coral, but will avoid any areas that contain the physical and biological features that would support coral species. Based on the proposed activities and avoidance, minimization, and conservation measures, the Corps has determined that the project may affect, but is not likely to adversely affect critical habitat for elkhorn coral and staghorn coral and the species listed above. The Corps will request consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act via a separate letter.
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service: The Corps has determined the proposal may affect but is not likely to adversely affect the West Indian manatee (Trichechus manatus) and is likely to adversely affect the green sea turtle, which has nested on the beach in the past. Sea turtles are known to frequent the area and a green sea turtle false crawl was
witnessed on the east end of the beach in the fall of 2019. The beach has been compromised. In 2019-2020 the beach width and depth changed drastically in response to storm events. The proposed project will stabilize areas of the beach so that they are suitable for nesting activities. The sand would be placed and groomed such that the dynamic natural transport process would create a natural beach profile and reestablish turtle nesting habitat that was impacted by recent storms. Conservation measures will be implemented during construction to minimize impacts to both species. The resort will be using sea turtle friendly lighting fixtures and amber lighting in areas which could impact the nesting beach. The Corps will request initiation of formal consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act via a separate letter.
ESSENTIAL FISH HABITAT (EFH): This notice initiates consultation with the National Marine Fisheries Service on EFH as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act of 1996. The proposal would impact tidal and subtidal marine habitat that could be utilized by various life stages of corals, queen conch, reef fish, spiny lobster, swordfish, blue marlin, longbill spearfish, sailfish, white marlin, blacktip shark, Caribbean reef shark, lemon shark, nurse shark, oceanic whitetip shark, and tiger shark. Although the Corps believes the project could benefit species with designated EFH in the long-term, our initial determination is that the proposed action would have an adverse impact on EFH or Federally managed fisheries in Morningstar Bay while the project is being constructed. Our final determination relative to project impacts and the need for EFH conservation measures is subject to review by and coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), Habitat Conservation Division. With this notice, the Corps is initiating EFH consultation with the NMFS.
SECTION 408: The applicant will not require permission under Section 14 of the Rivers and Harbors Act (33 USC 408) because the activity, in whole or in part, would not alter, occupy, or use a Corps Civil Works project.
WATER QUALITY CERTIFICATION: This public notice serves as the notification to the Environmental Protection Agency pursuant to section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act. Water Quality Certification may be required from the U.S. Virgin Islands, Department of Planning and Natural Resources, Environmental Protection Division. It is the responsibility of the applicant to obtain water quality certification or a waiver. A Department of the Army permit cannot be issued until this requirement has been fulfilled.
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT CONSISTENCY: In the Virgin Islands, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources permit constitutes compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Program. It is the responsibility of the applicant to ensure their project is consistent with the enforceable policies of the U.S. Virgin Islands Coastal Zone Management Act. A Department of the Army permit cannot be issued until this requirement has been fulfilled.
COMMENTS: Comments regarding the potential authorization of the work proposed should be submitted in writing to the Project Manager, Ms. Karen Urelius via email at: Karen.M.Urelius@usace.army.mil or via mail to the attention of Ms. Karen Urelius, Antilles-Miami Permits Section, Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, 701 San Marco Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida 32207-8175 within 30 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. This is based on an analysis of the applicant's avoidance and minimization efforts for the project, as well as the compensatory mitigation proposed.
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. The jurisdictional line has been verified by Corps personnel.
QUESTIONS: If you have questions concerning this application, please direct them to the project manager, Ms. Karen Urelius, at Karen.M.Urelius@usace.army.mil; by telephone at (787) 370-8359; or in writing at the Antilles-Miami Permits Section, Antilles-Miami Permits Section, Corps of Engineers, Jacksonville District, 701 San Marco Boulevard, Jacksonville, Florida 32207-8175.
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, esthetics, 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.
The US Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) is soliciting comments from the public; Federal, State, and local agencies and officials; 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 determination, comments are used to assess impacts to endangered species, historic properties, water quality, general environmental effects, and the other public interest factors listed above. Comments are also used to determine the need for a public hearing and to determine the overall public interest of the proposed activity.
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.