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: Chung Abbeu, Great Bay Condominiums Owners Association
WATERWAY AND LOCATION: The project would affect waters of the United States associated with Great Bay in the Caribbean Sea. The project site is located at The Ritz-Carlton Club on Tract #4 Consolidated Estate Nazareth, No. 1 Red Hook Quarter, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
APPROXIMATE CENTRAL COORDINATES: Latitude 18.322407°
Basic: Shoreline protection and sargassum abatement.
Overall: Protect the shoreline from sand loss caused by waves, enhance the beach through sand accretion and retention, and protect the beach and nearshore habitat from future sargassum blooms.
EXISTING CONDITIONS: The site has contained a hotel and resort for more than 50 years. The Ritz-Carlton Club beach is approximately 850 feet long and is separated from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel beach to the south by a rocky point. The beach has eroded significantly in recent years and the erosion continues to threaten and undermine some of the shoreline vegetation. The beach area is colonized by coconut palms (Cocos nucifera) and seagrapes (Cocoloba uvifera). The upland area adjacent to the project site consists of an established resort with condominiums, a pool, parking, and associated facilities.
The shoreline is significantly impacted by wave action during storm events, and the 2017 hurricane season moved large amounts of sand offshore well beyond the cell where the sand is typically moved back and forth on to the beach. This has led to increased and continual shoreline erosion since that time.
In addition to the effects of the 2017 hurricanes, the impact of cleaning up sargassum along the shoreline has also contributed to coastal erosion. There was a major sargassum bloom in 2021 that inundated the northern side of Great Bay; at times the sargassum built up more than 60 feet offshore. The prevailing winds are one of the greatest factors in the accumulation of sargassum in Great Bay. The winds push the floating brown seaweed onto the beach. Since Great Bay is a narrow deep embayment there is no way for the sargassum to be moved out of the bay except during significant storm events. The Club has been hiring people to clean up the sargassum from the shoreline, but the human workforce could not keep up with the amount of sargassum deposited on the beach. The beach became unusable and the smell so foul that large numbers of guests left the resort. Even with the careful sargassum cleanup methods employed, sand was lost.
In December 2021 and January 2022, divers conducted roving benthic surveys in Great Bay. Benthic substrate, presence/absence of corals, and the locations of seagrass beds were recorded. The sandy beach extends between the shoreline beach rock and reef to the north and a rocky promontory to the south. The area offshore of the beach is sandy and extends throughout the center of the bay. There is beach rock which is periodically exposed along the shoreline, and a large amount of the rock pavement was exposed by the hurricanes of 2017. There are scattered seagrass beds offshore containing Thalassia testudinum, Syringodium filiforme, and Halodule wrightii. These beds have been impacted over the last few years by storms as well as the proliferation of a non-native seagrass (Halophila stipulacea). There is consolidated hardbottom habitat to the north and south of the embayment which is habitat to corals including species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
PROPOSED WORK: The Ritz-Carlton Club (“The Club”) is seeking approval to undertake two separate measures intended to protect and enhance the shoreline.
The Club is proposing the placement of Geotubes® (“geotubes”) offshore parallel to the shoreline to effectively stop the loss of sand from the beach into deeper water and accelerate accretion of sand along the shoreline. Eleven geotubes are proposed parallel to the shoreline in approximately 5 ft of water. Each geotube would be 51 feet (ft) in length, 9 ft wide, 22 ft in circumference, and 4 ft in height. They would be placed parallel to the shoreline 40 to 60 ft offshore. The geotubes would be filled in place with 655 cubic yards of sand by creating a 10-12% sand water mixture. Turbidity barriers would be installed and maintained while filling the geotubes.
To control sargassum, The Club would install up to 900 ft of sargassum booms between 400-700ft from the shoreline and 75 feet of barrier as a “catch” to prevent sargassum from moving back along the beach to the south. The boom would have a 24-inch skirt to prevent sargassum from moving below the boom. The booms would be installed utilizing pairs of 3-ft screw anchors embedded on each side of the boom at 25-ft intervals and secured by floating lines. To allow for adjustments to the angle of the booms, up to 75 three-foot screw anchors would be installed. Quick releases will be installed on booms, so they maybe rapidly removed or deployed. The screw anchors will remain in place year-round, but the booms would only be deployed as necessary to prevent sargassum inundation on the beach. Two buoys would be installed on both ends of the boom to warn boaters of its presence.
Sargassum would be collected on the northern end of the beach, loaded into dumpsters and or trucks and hauled to the Bovoni Landfill. Sargassum would be directed to the northern end of the beach so that machinery is not required to work on the beach itself except to do minor maintenance and grooming. Sargassum would be temporarily stored behind a vegetative buffer and would be visually screened from the beach and shoreline with native vegetation.
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:
No corals or hardbottom areas will be impacted.
Stopping the buildup of sargassum on the shoreline will likely prevent impact to shallow seagrass along the shoreline which is smothered when the floating sargassum builds up along the shoreline and sinks.
Screw anchors will be used to minimize seagrass impacts when installing floating barriers.
The applicant will use floated lines instead of metal cable to attach the booms, since the metal cable has the potential to impact the seafloor.
Turbidity barriers will be installed and maintained while installing and filling the geotubes.
A water quality monitoring program will be implemented during installation of the geotubes.
NOAA’s Protected Species Construction Conditions will be followed.
NOAA’s Vessel Strike Avoidance Measures and Reporting for Mariners will be followed.
The geotubes will be placed so there is 1.5 ft clearance of water over the tops to allow snorkelers and swimmers to pass over them.
When no longer needed or during inclement weather, divers will remove sargassum booms.
COMPENSATORY MITIGATION: The eleven geotubes will be placed over 4,246 square feet of the seafloor colonized by seagrass. Approximately ½ (2,123 square feet) of the seagrass is not mixed with H. stipulacea, the non-native invasive seagrass. Native seagrass in the footprint of the geotubes will be transplanted into blowouts and scars to the east of the beach prior to placement of the geotubes. The transplant sites will be monitored for a period of five years. Therefore, there will be a loss of approximately 2,123 square feet of seagrass.
To compensate for unavoidable impacts, a minimum of 1,000 square feet of debris within Great Bay will be collected and properly disposed. In addition, to help protect the shoreline a planting plan will be executed. Ten seagrape saplings and 50 square feet of beach grass will be planted along the eroding shoreline.
CULTURAL RESOURCES: The Corps is evaluating the undertaking for effects to historic properties as required under Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. This public notice serves to inform the public of the proposed undertaking and invites comments including those from local, State, 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 and other interested parties.
ENDANGERED SPECIES: The Corps has determined that the following listed species may be present in the vicinity of the proposed project: Antillean manatee (Trichechus manantus manatus), green sea turtle (Chelonia mydas) loggerhead sea turtle (Caretta caretta), hawksbill sea turtle (Eretmochelys imbricata), leatherback sea turtle (Dermochelys coriacea), Nassau grouper (Epinephelus striatus), and the giant manta ray (Manta birostris). All listed corals will be completely avoided. NOAA’s Protected Species Construction Conditions and Vessel Strike Avoidance Measures and Reporting for Mariners will be followed to avoid and minimize potential effects to listed species to the greatest extent feasible. The site has a suitable turtle nesting beach although no nests were seen during repeated monitoring related to the cable installations that occurred previously within the action area. The beach in the area proposed for the sargassum “collection area” is not suitable for sea turtle nesting due to the beach composition which is a mixture of cobble and sand and partially underlain with beach rock. The applicant will comply with manatee conservation measures. Due to the incorporation avoidance, minimization, mitigation, and conservation measures, the Corps has determined the proposed project may affect but is not likely to adversely affect ESA-listed species. The Corps will request individual consultation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and National Marine Fisheries Service pursuant to Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act.
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. The proposal would impact seagrass and some mixed habitat types utilized by various life stages of species that have EFH designated as part of the Reef Fish Fishery, the Queen Conch Fishery, the Spiny Lobster Fishery, and the Coral Fishery. Our initial determination is that the proposed action would have an adverse impact on EFH or Federally managed fisheries in the U.S. Virgin Islands. However, with the implementation of the measures listed in the avoidance, minimization, mitigation, and endangered species sections above, we believe the adverse impacts will be offset. In addition, we believe that installation of the sargassum booms will result in long-term benefits to seagrass beds that will not be smothered and obscured by sargassum and the shoreline which would not continue to experience erosion due to removal efforts. Our final determination relative to project impacts and the need for mitigation measures is subject to review by and coordination with the National Marine Fisheries Service.
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 EPA pursuant to section 401(a)(2) of the Clean Water Act. Water Quality Certification may be required from the Department of Planning and Natural Resources Division of Environmental Protection.
COASTAL ZONE MANAGEMENT CONSISTENCY: In the Virgin Islands, the Department of Planning and Natural Resources permit constitutes compliance with the Coastal Zone Management Plan. This project is being reviewed by the Division of Coastal Zone Management.
IMPACTS ON NATURAL RESOURCES: Coordination with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Marine Fisheries Services, the U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources 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.
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 marine 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.
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. Please submit any requests to the attention of the District Engineer at the address in the letterhead or emailed (preferred) to Karen Urelius at: Karen.M.Urelius@usace.army.mil
COMMENTS: The Corps is accepting comments regarding the potential authorization of the proposed work. Comments must be submitted within 30 days from the date of this notice. Comments should be submitted in writing to the attention of the District Engineer and either sent to the address in the letterhead or emailed (preferred) to Karen Urelius at: Karen.M.Urelius@usace.army.mil
QUESTIONS: If you have questions concerning this application please direct them to the project manager, Karen Urelius, at Karen.M.Urelius@usace.army.mil or by telephone at (787) 370-8359.