Let’s Stop the SEG Marina and Be Done With It

Save Coral BayConversations about development on St. John often leave me feeling caught between a rock and a hard place.

Neoliberalism, white supremacy, predatory capitalism, and overdevelopment are all too real and we feel them all too acutely on small islands like St. John. Unfortunately, our problems do not have easy solutions. Therefore, we often find ourselves feeling lost and a tad bit confused.

The Summers End Group wants to build a mega marina in little old Coral Bay. It appears to be a horrible idea.

Advocates for the marina often downplay the environmental impact and argue that the SEG marina will provide jobs for locals and, consequently, improve St. John’s economy. However, many have already pointed out that a marina of this magnitude is likely to damage the mangroves and meadows that are teaming with sea life and home to endangered marine species.

There is also the question of the prospective human impact of this immense project. Can SEG’s development project harm U.S. Virgin Islanders, namely locals? I am under the impression that it will….

  1. If the plan to build the marina is allowed to proceed despite the overwhelming public outcry and the perceived weaknesses in the environmental assessment reports, application documents, and permits, local leaders might inadvertently intensify growing distrust between locals and government officials. At a time when many residents of the territory are accusing our political leaders of being greedy and corrupt, giving the go ahead to an ill conceived marina might increase the belief that local representatives do and will continue to choose corporate interests over environmental sustainability and the people’s interests.
  2. Like many other locals and residents, I am not convinced that the aforementioned job opportunities will go to local people. More often than not, racist hiring practices reserve the jobs with the greatest possibilities for upward mobility for non-locals.
  3. The marina might also work to increase land taxes that are already burdensome. On St. John, high land taxes fuel the displacement of local people. Locals are often forced to sell their land when land taxes become too burdensome. If the marina increases the land taxes and locals are unable to pay the astronomical prices, they are more likely to sell.
  4. If the project is abandoned due to any unforeseen events, it will create an eyesore that could negatively impact land values and the territory’s tourism industry.
  5. St. John markets itself as a “sleepy” and “quaint” island destination. Overdevelopment is likely to change this perception and undermine our present tourism marketing strategy. The development might be perceived as an eyesore to those who prefer the pristine bay. If St. John is over developed it will be forced to compete with other Caribbean islands because we would have lost one of the key things that makes our island a unique destination. If the number of tourists visiting the island declines as a result of this, many will feel the economic downturn.
  6. The marina may increase and deepen existing racial disparities. Tourism in the Caribbean is often predicated on racialized landscapes. Local people of color are often relegated to positions of servitude. A mega marina on such a small island is likely to highlight glaring wealth disparities that are inscribed along racial lines.

Yet, some of us support the development project. Why? The answer is quite simple. Our economy needs the money and we are annoyed by the exclusionary politics that underly mainstream ecological conservation projects.

Neoliberal humanitarians have this underlying assumption that if we save the natural landscape from predatory capitalism, it will be saved for everyone. However, many local people of color are painfully aware of the fact that this is not necessarily true. Too many St. Johnians have left the island because they cannot afford to live in a space with high land taxes, a disadvantaged education system, limited access to organic food, and few job opportunities. We know that racial and environmental systems of oppression are interlocking because they are rooted in similar logics of domination. However, our attempts to bring these connections to the surface are more often than not ignored and maligned by those who are uncomfortable with discussions on race and colonialism. Our efforts are thwarted by the assumption that we all have the same relationships to space and conservation. We don’t.

Relationships with our environment are often shaped by identities, experiences, and power dynamics.In the past, conservation projects have attempted to maintain pristine landscapes by 1) disrupting local and indigenous ecologies and 2) displacing local and indigenous bodies. For example, the effort to establish the VI National Park called for the government to condemn the island and relocate local people. Perhaps, the rhetoric surrounding saving Coral Bay is a painful reminder of other forms of racism in environmental conservation projects. There are plenty of examples. Local St. Johnians are not legally permitted to hunt deer but the National Park can cull the herd that would have been managed by hunting.It almost appears as though local lives become the fault line in a battle between greedy capitalists and neoliberal humanitarianism. If predatory capitalism (corporate greed) threatens the natural landscape, we lose rights that previously allowed us to lead sustainable lives.

So, instead, some of us are clinging to the financial possibilities that the marina and other mega development projects might provide. Others become apathetic because our displacement and marginalization appears inevitable.

We have to fight overdevelopment anyway. Radical sustainable development is always a possible solution. It’s not an easy one but it’s the one that we need. In my humble opinion, our island cannot afford to have the SEG marina. It is likely to increase the speed at which our displacement and marginalization is occurring.

We have to stop the SEG marina because it gives us a fighting chance. The fight for self determination will be harder with a mega marina in our backyard. The glaring wealth disparities on our island will be more pronounced. It will be harder to pay our land taxes. Finding affordable land for sustainable agriculture will be increasingly difficult. We will lose more space to landscapes that rely on colonial fantasies and Black and Brown servitude. Locals will continue to leave because making a life in our hometown will require resources that we are struggling to find and maintain. There will be more spaces on island where we are told in more ways than one that we aren’t truly welcome.

We have to find models of sustainable development that allow us to lead fulfilling lives on this island that we call home. Let’s stop the SEG marina and be done with it. I want to do more than just save Coral Bay from the grips of overzealous capitalists. I want us to stop SEG and use this form of activism as an opportunity to save ourselves from the processes of displacement and systems of oppression that have been normalized in our lives.

I was at my uncle’s funeral and I noticed that there were a group of tourists leaning over the balcony of their resorts watching. They watched us for quite some time as if burying our loved one was merely just another spectacle. They watched as if they had gotten front row seats at a parade. The Summers End Group’s proposed marina feels like another space where locals will be objectified and our lives will be transformed into spectacles for Western consumption. We need models of sustainable development that preserve our beautiful environment AND cater to the humanity of locals as more than just the one dimensional caricatures that colonial fantasies create. A mega marina is not it.

#DecolonizingtheUSVI

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