Joel Tutein is a frustrated man. He has every right to be so. For a decade now he has worked — as the top National Park Service official on St. Croix — to develop a joint management plan with the local government to administer the Salt River National Park and the territorial park adjoining it. For a decade, the local government has balked at the idea.
During the recent discussions about the expanded Buck Island National Monument, the local government argued that the federal government was taking submerged lands that belonged to the Virgin Islands. That issue is complex, because the expanded national monument takes in submerged lands that would have fallen under the control of the East End Marine Park that is being established by the local government with the help of the non-governmental sector.
In some ways, the local government had a legitimate gripe about the expansion, because it was, contrary to apparent standard operating procedure, trying to preserve vital resources.
In the case of Salt River, the local government's efforts to preserve have consisted of little efforts, if any. That is why Tutein has decided to take on the task of management with or without — and in this case, without — the local government's assistance.
The fact that the National Park Service is expanding its holdings around Salt River is proof that it is serious about preservation. That work bodes well for the future of the area. What remains a problem is the land held by the V.I. government. Several important natural history and archeological treasures exist on the V.I. land holding. These treasures will go unprotected if the local government does not act quickly to develop a management plan. Unprotected treasures usually become unwanted refuse.
The local government has proven that it is capable of taking action to preserve resources. The East End Marine Park may well be a shining example of the beauty of St. Croix's natural ecosystems if it can be implemented properly. Coastal Zone Management is working hard to see that it is. The community is also doing its part to see that this vital resource is protected.
If the issue at Salt River is that the local government does not have the wherewithall to protect the area properly, perhaps the National Park Service should be allowed to manage the resource for it. Even better still, perhaps the president of the United States could declare the heritage site at Salt River a national monument. Unlike Buck Island, the acreage needed would be small; but more important, nothing effective is being done at present to protect such a small yet significant area.
Where there is no controversy of usage, preservation should be the top priority. It is time to act before it is too late.
Editor's note: Source columnist 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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