May 1, 2001 — Gov. Charles Turnbull has outlined how he wants the U.S. Interior Department to proceed with its controversial plans that established national monuments in the territory's waters.
In a letter to Interior Secretary Gale Norton on Friday, Turnbull said ownership issues regarding the monuments created by former President Clinton need to be settled before any management plans for the areas are put in place.
"This jurisdictional issue should be resolved post haste prior to any further discussions about rules and regulations for the management of the proclaimed Coral Reef National Monument and the expansion of the Buck Island National Monument," Turnbull told Norton.
In the last days of his administration, Clinton created the 12,700-acre V.I. Coral Reef National Monument off St. John and expanded the Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix by 18,000 acres. The designation and expansion, which bans fishing, anchoring and other activities in the area in order to conserve and restore coral reef ecosystems and marine life, have raised the ire of local politicians because they claim the land in question belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands.
According to Clinton's proclamation, the National Park Service has two years to prepare a management plan for Buck Island and three years for the St. John monument.
V.I. Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole said he supports Turnbulls position. As chairman of the Senate Environmental Protection Committee, Cole held three public hearings on the monument issue and said he came away with the position that the land in question belongs to the Virgin Islands.
Both he and Turnbull point to an act carried out by then-President Gerald Ford in 1974 that transferred the land in question to the Virgin Islands. However, the Interior Department under former Secretary Bruce Babbitt disagreed.
"We believe the monument designation is against federal rules and regulations," Cole said, noting that on a recent trip to Washington, D.C., he gave the transcripts of his hearings on the issue to House Resources Committee Chairman James Hansen. "The first issue is whether the property belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands," Cole said.
Meanwhile, Turnbull told Interior Secretary Norton that the Virgin Islands will have its own Marine Park Management Plan in place by the end of the year. The plan is funded by the U.S. Coral Reef Task Force Initiative. The plan, Turnbull said, is based on ecological, social and economic concerns.
"We have collaborated with local and federal agencies, non-governmental organizations and stakeholders in the development of this Marine Park Management Plan and particularly the establishment of a marine protected area on the island of St. Croix by the end of this year," Turnbull said.
He added that additional areas throughout the territory would be added to the plan over time.
Turnbulls letter follows Nortons statement in late March that she would consider revising Clinton's monument designations not only in the territory but in several other states as well.