July 19, 2002 – Top brass of the National Park Service and members of Congress were en route to the Virgin Islands on Friday to attend hearings of the House Subcommittee on National Parks, Recreation and Public Lands on St. John St. Croix.
John King, superintendent at V.I. National Park on St. John, said the hearings will focus on the park service facilities on the two islands. The St. John session is to begin at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Legislature Building. The St. Croix meeting is set for 10 a.m. Monday in the Federal Building in Christiansted — a change of venue from the Legislature Building in Frederiksted because it's in use by the Senate.
King said that Patricia Hooks, NPS deputy director for the southeast region, which includes the Virgin Islands, already is on St. John. She will be joined by Fran Mainella, director of the National Park Service, and Jerry Belson, director of its southeast region. He said that in additional to Delegate Donna M. Christensen, the congressional delegation includes Rep. George Radanovich of California, subcommittee chair, and Rep. Betty McCollum of Minnesota.
"They're arriving on an Air Force plane," King said.
He said Saturday's agenda calls for three panels to give testimony.
The first comprises public officials — Gov. Charles W. Turnbull; Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd; Sen. Donald "Ducks" Cole, the Legislature's liaison to the U.S. Senate; and Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett.
The second consists of St. John residents — Randolph Thomas, president of the St. John Taxi Association; Lorelei Monsanto, the taxi group's spokeswoman; businessman James Penn and educator Alecia M. Wells.
The final panel is made up of community group representatives — Joe Kessler, president of the Friends of V.I. National Park; Carla Joseph, president of the Environmental Association of St. Thomas/St. John; and David Berry, representing St. Thomas fishermen.
King said Mainella will present give the NPS position paper on the Coral Reef National Monument. He said he had expected the federal General Accounting Office to have released its opinion by now on whether the federal government had the authority to name 12,708 acres off St. John as the Coral Reef National Monument. "We were told it would be released before the hearing," he said.
Although the announcement has not come, he said, the park service has been told the GAO ruled in favor of the federal government.
Monique Clendinen, spokeswoman in Christensen's Washington, D.C., office, said she, too, had expected the opinion to come out before the hearing. But she said she recently was told the person working on the project was out of town.
On St. Croix, Mainella will make a presentation on the Buck Island Reef National Monument and its 18,000-acre expansion, according to Joel Tutein, superintendent of the park service's St. Croix properties. The expansion, like the creation of the Coral Reef National Monument off St. John, came about by executive order of President Clinton in his final days in office. The V.I. government has challenged the designation, saying the submerged lands belong to the territory.
Tutein said that two panels will make presentations Monday on St. Croix.
The first will comprise Bill Turner, director of the St. Croix Environmental Association; Sen. Roosevelt David; and Maxwell McIntosh, an attorney who serves on the Salt River Bay National Historic Park and Ecological Preserve Commission.
The other panel will consist of Virdin C. Brown, chair of the Caribbean Fisheries Council; Robert McAuliffe, a fisherman; and Michelle Pugh, owner of Dive Experience.
For background on the conflict between V.I. and federal officials over the legitimacy of the national monument designations, see "Monument issue still being debated".
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