Governor Seeks Support for St. John School Land Lease

Nov. 26, 2007 — Although a bill to lease land within the V.I. National Park so the local government can build a school successfully passed the U.S. House of Representatives Oct. 10, the bill still has to make its way through the U.S. Senate and get approval by President Bush before it becomes a done deal.
The bill is now in the hands of the Senate's Energy and Natural Resources Committee. No date has been set for a hearing, said Brian Modeste, an aide to Delegate Donna M. Christensen. He doubts the bill will sail through the Senate committee without issues being raised.
"The director of the National Park Service came out in opposition," Modeste said.
Park Service Director Mary A. Bomar said the idea of leasing land within national park boundaries was unprecedented, according to Modeste. The park service fears that residents who live near other parks, particularly in the West, will also want a lease on land, Modeste said.
Even if the Senate fails to approve the bill calling for a lease of up to 99 years, as passed by the House, he expects that some version of the bill will gain approval.
Gov. John deJongh Jr. isn't leaving the bill's passage to chance. Monday he sent out a news release announcing he's asking Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne to support the bill.
Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said that he doesn't anticipate problems in getting the bill through the Senate, but the governor is working to "build support."
Passage of this legislation will resolve the land issues that have, for almost three decades, delayed the construction of a modern kindergarten-through-grade 12 school on St. John, deJongh said, according to the release.
"The delay has denied the teachers and children of St. John the high-quality educational facility that they deserve," he said.
Advocates for the land lease Lorelei Monsanto and Kristen Cox of the One Campus group said they don't expect difficulty in getting the bill through the Senate.
"But we needed the support of the governor," Monsanto said. "It's time for him to become engaged in the process."
Supporters have suggested that the school could serve all St. John school students, which would mean that both Guy Benjamin School in Coral Bay and Julius E. Sprauve School in Cruz Bay would close. A high school would be included in the project.
Cox said that while she's not in favor of immediately closing Guy Benjamin School, she does see that the time will come when Coral Bay will become as congested as Cruz Bay. This will make it an unsuitable location for the school, so the new school must be ready to accept the Guy Benjamin students when the need arises, she said.
Leasing land would move Sprauve School out of congested and noisy Cruz Bay and allow for construction of a middle and high school on St. John, Cox said.
"We want our children to stay on St. John," she said.
The local government and the National Park Service looked at various options over the years, including land swaps, but the high property values and shortage of suitable land on St. John has made a solution difficult, the governor said.
“The educational needs of our children should not be sacrificed because of the needs of the National Park System,” he said.
For decades, deJongh wrote Kempthorne, St. John’s public high school students have had to travel by ferry to St. Thomas each day to attend school. For many students the journey begins before 5 a.m. and doesn’t end until the early evening, he wrote.
The local government is committed to constructing a modern school that would be a world-class model for both ecological protection and energy conservation, deJongh wrote. In his letter, the governor also expressed his concern about the long-term relationship between the National Park on St. John and local residents unless a solution to this problem is achieved.
Back Talk Share your reaction to this news with other Source readers. Please include headline, your name and city and state/country or island where you reside.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email