The National Park Service plans to replace park housing and administrative buildings that were destroyed across St. John in 2017 by expanding its existing complex at Lind Point.
The Lind Point plan is essentially a replacement plan, park officials told community members Tuesday at a meeting at the NPS Visitor Center in Cruz Bay, although some new structures will be built at Lind Point to replace park homes lost on the North Shore and at Lameshur Bay.
“We’re not doubling our office space. We’re not building any big houses. We lost ‘x’ square feet, and that’s what we’re going to be replacing,” said VINP head of resources and interpretation Dave Worthington.
Hurricanes Irma and Maria rendered six NPS staff houses on St. John uninhabitable, and since then the local park has been operating at a reduced staff. Park housing destroyed included one unit of a Lind Point duplex, and homes across the island known as Trunk Bay, Lilli Maho, Island Fancy, the Callahan Guest House and Lameshur. All together, approximately 7,000 square feet of staff housing was lost, which is what the park plans to rebuild at Lind Point at its already heavily developed complex.
The park also lost four buildings at Lind Point that comprised its resource management offices. Rebuilding those offices is part of the plan. Structures will also be built to replace the park’s dive locker, a modular building used to house museum collections, and an archaeology lab, all of which were destroyed in 2017’s storms.
The NPS is required by law to do environmental assessments and public outreach for projects on the scale of the Lind Point construction. On Tuesday, park officials including Caribbean Parks Superintendent Randy Lavasseur told St. John residents the park’s assessment found the impacts of its Lind Point plan to be minimal.
The impacts mostly relate to common, non-native vegetation being removed to make room for new buildings at the site, and changes to the area’s viewshed. Worthington said the first impact would end up being a net benefit since native trees would be replanted. The second impact he said would be mitigated by keeping the buildings single story and painting them natural earth colors.
Other site options for rebuilding offices and housing that were ultimately rejected included the area near the old seaplane ramp in Cruz Bay, the ballfield near the visitor center and an expansion of the center itself, and park-owned land in Wintberg and Red Hook on St. Thomas, where some housing and offices previously were.
Worthington added that the park is not likely to get back to full, efficient operations until replacement of lost buildings is complete.
“There simply is not enough room in [the visitor center} and up at maintenance for the park to operate efficiently. Barely at all, sometimes. We’ve got people piled into offices and we’re very overcrowded. Similarly with housing, without adequate housing it is difficult to recruit and attract people to the island.”
The park’s proposal appeared mainly uncontroversial among the 20 or so St. John residents who showed up to Tuesday’s meeting, although a few people offered comment. Lorelei Monsanto recommended adding a children’s playground to staff housing for park employees with families, and Brion Morisette said the viewshed would best be preserved by keeping cisterns to the sides of housing rather than underneath living areas, thereby reducing building height.
Comments about the plan can still be delivered or mailed to the National Park Visitor Center, or made online at parkplanning.nps.gov/VINP_Lind_Point_Construction before July 31.
Not part of the plan is a decision on what to do with destroyed and heavily damaged park housing at other sites on St. John. Officials said there has not been a determination yet on how those properties will be handled. Some of the structures, particularly the house at Lameshur, are historic.
“An additional decision-making process designed to determine how to appropriately manage the remaining portions of the Lameshur house and other potentially eligible structures damaged by the storms will be carried out in consultation with the V.I. Historic Preservation Office and interested stakeholders,” the park’s assessment reads.
Also discussed Tuesday was a plan to replace the pavilion area at Maho Bay. Because that plan is lower impact, and because it is being funded by donations and not tax monies, the assessment and public comment process is less expansive.
VINP Chief Ranger Rick Gupman, who is also currently acting superintendent of the St. John park, described the plans for the new Maho Bay pavilions as “simple, inexpensive, and relatively expendable in the event of another storm.”
“The concept is to have as little of a footprint on the beach as possible,” he said.
The plan includes three pavilions, two measuring 12 feet by 12 feet, and one measuring 20 by 12 feet. All would have concrete pillars buried in the sand, wood beams and overhanging roofs. The smaller pavilions would have sand floors, while the larger one would have a stone floor.
Also discussed briefly Tuesday was the issue of rogue actors planting coconut palms, a non-native species, at North Shore beaches since Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Park officials said they have removed some of the palms, and clarified that park policy bars unsanctioned plantings. Officials said the park will welcome assistance and consultation in its planned efforts to replant damaged shore areas with native V.I. species.
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