From: Mat Probasco, Associated Press
Published January 14, 2005 12:00 AM

Casino Developers Granted Permit to Build Resort Near Wetlands in U.S. Virgin Islands

CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. Virgin Islands — The government granted casino developers a permit to build a $150 million resort near sensitive wetlands, drawing complaints from environmentalists.


Golden Resorts, a local company, plans to build the resort about 50 feet (15 meters) from the mangrove-fringed Great Pond on the island of St. Croix. The pond is home to many rare birds, while the federally protected green and hawksbill turtles nest in nearby beaches.


The Coastal Zoning Management Commission granted the permit Wednesday after a yearlong legal battle, said Treston Moore, an attorney for Golden Resorts. He said construction could start in March and insisted the developer would take steps to protect the environment, though he did not provide specifics.


"We want to be environmentally sound," Moore said. "We're going to do all we can to protect the environment."


The St. Croix Environmental Association said Thursday it would ask the Board of Land Use Appeals to rescind the permit.


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"We'll file an appeal because their application doesn't meet the standard of the law," said Carlos Tesitor, the group's director. "They may have been able to pull off a permit bureaucratically, but their application is deficient."


Environmentalists argue the resort would attract crowds to the normally deserted beaches, potentially destroying turtle nesting grounds and scaring off birds. They also say soil runoff from construction could cause other harm.


Golden Resorts attorneys have countered the 290-acre resort would employ 1,200 people, 80 percent of whom would be from St. Croix, the largest and poorest island in the U.S. Caribbean territory. The 434-room resort would include a casino and golf course.


St. Croix, the largest of the Virgin Islands, is the only place in the U.S. Caribbean territory of 110,000 that allows casinos.


Source: Associated Press


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