Preservation, to our local government, frequently means keeping one's post in an election year rather than protecting vital resources. In fact, it is often amusing to watch a politician squirm when two groups take diametrically opposed positions on an issue of preservation, because the politician knows that he or she will have to choose a side to get elected. Choosing sides makes enemies, who act as the scourge of political survival.
With that in mind, it was interesting to watch two governments discuss ownership of the submerged lands around St. Croix and off St. John. Preservation was the central issue. The argument revolved around which government had the authority to preserve.
In his last days in office, President Bill Clinton designated a very large portion of submerged land around Buck Island as a national monument. The government of the Virgin Islands believes that he did not have the legal authority to do so. Therein lies the twist.
If the argument is strictly about preservation, we should let the designation stand. After all, the V.I. government has serious problems to deal with that require much closer attention. The National Park Service is doing a great job of keeping Buck Island as one of St. Croix's natural wonders and the V.I. National Park as a major visitor attraction on St. John. We should not try to fix that which is not broken.
The designation affects only 5 percent of the fishing area off St. Croix, so fishing is not central to the argument. Recreational use of Buck Island is a thriving local industry, so recreational use is not central to the argument, either. It seems that the issue boils down to land rights, in this case submerged land rights. It is a shame that nature does not have a clause to deal with "my right of way is better than your right of way" arguments.
Too bad for all of us that egos are blind to ecological reality. The visionary would argue that allowing a government that cannot clean the sewage from its own gutters to control the waters around Buck Island and off St. John is unwise. The visionary would have a good point.
Editor's note: Bill Turner, executive director of the St. Croix Environmental Association, was formerly a teacher and vice principal at the high school level in Puerto Rico.
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