July 9, 2002 – Members of the Congressional Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands will hold field hearings on St. John and St. Croix later this month.
The St. John hearing is scheduled for 10 a.m. on July 20 at the Legislature Building in Cruz Bay. It will cover issues involving the V.I. National Park and the Coral Reef National Monument.
The St. Croix hearing is set for 10 a.m. on July 22 at the Legislature Building in Frederiksted. It will address such matters as the Christiansted National Historic Site, the Buck Island Reef National Monument and the Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.
Delegate Donna M. Christensen arranged the hearings. She is the ranking Democrat on the subcommittee, which comes under the House Resources Committee.
"These are oversight hearings on all parks," Christensen's spokeswoman, Monique Clendinen, said Tuesday. Selected community members who have had issues with the park have been asked to testify, she said, but the general public will not have an opportunity to speak.
V.I. National Park Superintendent John King said that the National Park Service director, Fran Mainella, and the Southeast Region director, Jerry Belson, will attend. King said he has been asked to develop testimony on the Coral Reef National Monument that he expects Mainella will deliver. He said the NPS Congressional Affairs Office in Washington is trying to find out what other topics the subcommittee wants to hear about, so that he can be prepared.
King said he anticipates that land acquisition, access to inholdings and the park's Commercial Services Plan are issues that will be addressed. The Commercial Services Plan, adopted last year and put into effect Jan. 1, requires taxi drivers to obtain annual permits to operate in the park. King said the U.S. District Court case brought by the St. John Taxi Association challenging the requirement is still pending. "I was hoping that the issue would be before the judge before the hearing so we could bring closure," he said.
Lorelei Monsanto, taxi association spokeswoman, said she received an invitation to testify before the group in Monday's mail. Since the permits matter is in litigation, she said, she will not address it at the hearing. She said she plans to ask how St. John residents can become team players with the National Park Service, "to learn how to reach other's needs and wants."
King also said the General Accounting Office has yet to release its report on the legality of the Coral Reef National Monument designation by President Clinton shortly before he left office, an action the V.I. government has challenged. However, King said he has been told that the GAO ruling affirms the federal government's right to name 12,708 acres off St. John as a national monument. Clendinen said she expects the report to be issued soon.
Joel Tutein, superintendent of national park operations on St. Croix, said he expects that the expansion of Buck Island by 18,135 acres will be a hot topic.
Also, he said, the National Park Service has asked Christensen to introduce legislation that would expand the Salt River boundaries. He said that a private property on the south boundary wants to donate 15.5 acres to the park and that a resident on the western side wants to donate part and sell part of an 8.5-acre parcel to the park service.
Tutein said the 8.5-acre parcel includes a 4,800-square-foot house that could be used as a visitor center, something Salt River currently does not have. "It will give us a base for operations and won't impact any of the resources," he said.
Christensen said the subcommittee, chaired by Rep. George Radanovich of California, "holds hearings across the country in districts where there are park properties" in order to "get a better understanding of the local issues that impact the national parks." Clendinen said she expects three or four members to travel to the Virgin Islands.
Monsanto urged St. John residents to attend the Cruz Bay hearing, saying she hopes it will be productive. "A lot of turnout will speak for itself," she said, and since the meeting is on a Saturday, there is no reason for most residents not to attend. "You can postpone going to St. Thomas for your groceries," she said.
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