Jan. 23, 2005 A bill creating a chief financial officer for the territory is again winding its way through the federal law-making process, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said Sunday at the Friends of the V.I. National Park annual meeting.
Christensen, the featured speaker, said she introduced the bill when the House of Representatives convened in early January. She said she expects a Senate version to be introduced soon.
She urged the nearly 100 Friends members and supporters gathered at Cinnamon Bay Campground's Tree Lizards Restaurant to lobby locally and at the Interior Department to get the bill passed.
"The case for the bill is even stronger now," she said.
Christensen has taken heat from local government officials and members of the Democratic party for her efforts to get the bill through. Gov. Charles Turnbull and others have said to have such a post smacks of colonialism.
The delegate introduced the bill in the last Congress, but the term ended before the bill saw a vote.
Christensen, who is the ranking member on the House subcommittee on Parks and Public Lands, had grim news on the environmental front.
"I expect the 109th Congress to be very anti-environmental. We're going to have a big fight on our hands," she said.
She said she expects efforts to "gut" the Endangered Species Act and a big push to drill for oil in Alaska's Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
She noted that Rep. Nick Rahall, who attended the Friends meeting because he was honeymooning on St. John, was a strong supporter of national parks. Rahall is the ranking Democratic member on the House Resources Committee.
Christensen said she will introduce a bill to exchange park land on St. John for land owned by the local government so the Education Department can move Julius E. Sprauve School out of noisy and congested Cruz Bay.
She said that the Dec. 22, 2004 death of second-grade student Javon Alfred, who ran into a truck when he tried to dash across the street, points up the need for relocating the school.
Christensen said that the land swap can still be accomplished by negotiation, but by introducing a bill she hopes to expedite matters.
She said she also plans to introduce a bill to extend territorial waters from its current three miles to nine miles. She said this would put the waters between St. Thomas and St. Croix, that are not managed by other agencies, into territorial control.
In his state of the park speech, Superintendent Art Frederick said the U.S. Congress last year cut this park's budget by $300,000 when it cut all national park budgets. He said to compensate, the park did not fill management positions and cut down on ordering supplies.
"We really tightened our belts," he said.
He said the park came through fine, but some other parks around the country had to close campgrounds and visitors' centers. Frederick said he wasn't sure what would happen if Congress cut the budget this year.
He said that the reconstruction of bathrooms at Hawksnest Bay will be finished by Feb. 4. The project, which was supposed to be done by a contractor six months after it started last January, now awaits roofing material and six benches.
Frederick put the blame for the delay on the regional park office, which continued to pay the contractor although it was supposed to assess penalties when the project ran late.
The superintendent said the park will start in late spring on rehabilitating the North Shore Road. The project includes rebuilding the road where it is sagging, improving parking lots, repairing walls and guard rails, and installing devices to keep people from parking on the beach at Maho Bay.
As it usually does at the annual meeting, the Friends and the park handed out awards. The park's archeologist, Ken Wild, received the Friends Partnership Award.
Friends of the Park member Bruce Schoonover received the Friend's Volunteer of the Year award for his efforts in developing a training manual for park tour guides.
The park named Chuck Pishko its Volunteer of the Year for his numerous efforts in helping the park. Frederick said that Pishko often fills in as an interpreter when the park is short staffed and leads tours at Reef Bay, among his numerous efforts.
Joe Kessler, Friends president, said the Friends will start work on a hurricane mooring system at Hurricane Hole on Feb. 26.
He said the group has about 3,000 members located around the world, as well as in the Virgin Islands.
He said the group last year funded $260,000 worth of activities at park. They included a study that showed the park benefits the Virgin Islands to the tune of $128 million and generates 2,500 jobs.
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