Thank you for your May 12 article advising that the so-called "Hassel Island Preservation Trust" opposes the Virgin Islands government negotiating with the National Park Service for 10 acres of land near Maho Bay on St. John (belonging to the U.S. government) to be used for the construction of a new high school.
The article provides insight into the thinking of Rik Van Rensselaer, president of the so-called "Hassel Island Preservation Trust." I assume, because the article said "members" of the trust "are concerned" that he was also speaking for Wanda Mills and Harmon Killebrew, the other founding members of the organization.
It is appropriate to remind readers of the Source that Van Rensselaer, Killebrew and Mills were among the advocates of erecting a 93 foot tower adjacent to Historic Cowell's Battery, a proposal to which the community expressed opposition in various public forums. They also were linked to the defacement of Hassel Island by the roadwork between Fort Willoughby and the Garrison House that so outraged the public. They rationalized their support for the proposed communication tower by contending that it would have financed the restoration of Fort Willoughby and the Garrison House. What they failed to mention, though, was the adverse impact the proposed tower would have on the historic Cowell's Battery site, the Hassel Island National Park and the entrance to the harbor of Charlotte Amalie.
It is hard, therefore, for me to view Van Rensselaer or his group as advocates for open, transparent negotiations or for the preservation of Hassel Island given the positions they took regarding the proposed tower and the defacing roadwork that happened without any public knowledge or discussion before it occurred.
The Hassel Island National Park belongs to the people. The National Park Service exists to manage public lands and parks for the people. In fact, Park Superintendent Art Frederick has stated clearly that it is the Park Service's intention to focus on the Hassel Island National Park so that it serves the public.
Were Fort Willoughby, the Garrison House and Cowell's Battery to be brought under the stewardship of the Park Service, these historic sites would be preserved and be open to the public. There could be no attempt to justify an ugly communications tower or an ugly road to accommodate such a tower. Cowell's Battery, a beautiful, important historic site would not be defaced, but rather restored and preserved. Remedial work would be done to the ugly scar of a road, and importantly, funding would be available to do this work with no commercial strings attached and at no cost to the V.I. government. This would be in the best interest of the people of the Virgin Islands.
The Virgin Islands government currently has many demands on its limited financial resources and many priorities, and an opportunity to obtain 10 acres of land on St. John in order to build a much needed new school should not be denigrated by Van Rensselaer or his group.
The National Park Service's mission is preservation and restoration, and the best way for the important sites on Hassel Island to be protected and preserved for the islands' residents and visitors is for those sites to be under the jurisdiction of the National Park. In that manner, responsibility and oversight of the Hassel Island National Park and its historical sites can be managed professionally and responsibly by one entity rather than several.
The notion that a transfer of these sites to the National Park Service would mean that they would no longer belong to the people of the Virgin Islands is false. If these sites were transferred to the National Park Service, not only would they belong to the public, they would be preserved for its benefit.
If the members of the so-called Hassel Island Preservation Trust were genuinely concerned with protecting the historic sites on Hassel Island for the people, they would be overjoyed by an opportunity to have the National Park Service preserve these sites with no commercial strings attached and at no cost to the V.I. government.
Finally, if the Trust members truly favor full public disclosure, then they should reveal what financial arrangements they have had, now have and will have in the future relating to the proposed communication tower, its owners, or other commercial activities on Hassel Island.
Avna Paiewonsky Cassinelli
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