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St. John School Bill Will Pass Eventually, Christensen Predicts

Jan. 9, 2008 — It will take "years" before the process is complete on the St. John school land-lease bill, Delegate Donna M. Christensen said Wednesday at a press conference in her St. Croix office.
"At the present time, the Interior Department and the park are opposing the bill," she said.
However, she said she expects the leasing bill, now awaiting action by the U.S. Senate, will pass this year. The bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in October 2007. It authorizes the Interior Department to negotiate a lease with the local government on land within V.I. National Park so the local government can build a school.
With that goal in mind, Christensen said Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne will visit the territory late in the first quarter of the year or early in the second to see for himself why St. John needs this lease.
"He'll see the urgency and see how much of St. John is in the park," Christensen said. "I think he'll soften his opposition."
Residents were clear that they do not want to exchange offshore cays owned by the local government for land for the St. John school, but want a lease on the land, Christensen said.
This weekend two members of the House Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, Rep. Norm Dicks of Washington and Rep. Todd Tiahrt of Kansas, will visit St. John to explore Caneel Bay Resort's request to extend its lease, Christensen said. Dicks is the subcommittee chairman and Tiahrt the ranking minority member.
The resort sits on park-owned land. Caneel's lease is up in 2023, but the company needs to extend the lease to get financing to make upgrades to the property, Christensen said. At issue is the fact that Caneel has a lease on the property rather than a concession, as is the practice in other national parks.
"It's a very unique situation," she said.
Dicks and Tiahrt will also explore the Trust for Public Land's request for funding to help pay for the 415 acres it acquired from the Marsh family at Maho Bay, St. John, Christensen said.
The delegate also addressed an issue involving U.S. Customs and Border Protection. The agency now has a boat on St. Thomas and has done some patrols, but the program isn't fully implemented. The agency still hasn't hired a supervisor to be based on St. Thomas, she said.
Patrols are needed to combat the flow of illegal immigrants, drugs and guns into the territory, residents say.
In her far-reaching press conference, Christensen touched on her successes and her hopes for the upcoming year, as well as other issues.
Christensen said she doesn't hold out hope of her chief financial officer bill making it through Congress, because Gov. John deJongh Jr. opposes it. However, she plans to hold a hearing on the bill and remains committed to making sure residents get a clear picture of the territory's finances.
And the issue could be addressed in the Constitutional Convention now taking place, she said.
Crime is a big issue for Christensen. She's working to restore anti-crime funding that evaporated in the previous Republican-led Congress.
However, she said the community needs to take "ownership" of the territory's crime problem and say enough is enough. This involves people with knowledge about crimes coming forward and parents being made accountable for crimes committed by their children, she said.
Conflict resolution needs to be taught in the schools and overwhelmed parents need support, Christensen said.
The delegate said she has a good working relationship with deJongh although the two don't agree on everything. The relationship is an improvement over the one with former Gov. Charles Turnbull, because she and deJongh communicate better.
"It works better," she said.
Christensen will continue to work toward returning to the territory all the tax money generated by St. Croix-produced rum sold on the mainland. Currently, the territory gets back $13.25 per proof gallon, which she said generates about $75 to $80 million a year. The federal government collects $13.50, but hangs on to the remaining 25 cents.
And the delegate noted that she now holds a House ranking of 240, up from 376 last year. That ranking is based on tenure, positions of leadership and ability to pass legislation through Congress, she said.
Christensen confirmed that she is running for reelection in November.
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