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HomeNewsArchivesANSWER TO MONUMENT ISSUE DUE IN OCTOBER

ANSWER TO MONUMENT ISSUE DUE IN OCTOBER

Aug. 28, 2001 — The question of who owns the submerged lands that former President Bill Clinton designated as national monuments will take at least a month to answer.
Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen said Monday she recently spoke to the attorney in the U.S. Government Accounting Office who is charged with issuing a legal opinion on the disagreement over ownership of the lands. Christensen told WSTX radio that "because of the slow transition at the Interior Department . . . the information coming from Interior has been" delayed.
Christensen said GAO officials told her last week that they had received the last bit of information requested from Interior and it will take about six weeks for an opinion to be issued.
"We are anticipating some time in October we should get a legal opinion on the ownership of the monuments," Christensen said.
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 ban 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 who claim the land in question belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands.
In May, Gov. Charles Turnbull wrote newly appointed Interior Secretary Gale Norton and reiterated the V.I. government’s position. Turnbull said the issue needed to be settled before any management plans for the areas are put in place. 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.
Those who contend that the submerged land belongs to the territory 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.

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