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HomeNewsArchivesFriends of V.I. National Park President Testifies Before Congress

Friends of V.I. National Park President Testifies Before Congress

March 26, 2008 — Joe Kessler, president of Friends of V.I. National Park, went to Washington recently to make a case for federal funding for the Trust for Public Land's Maho Bay property.
Kessler was the only person invited to testify March 13 on a single issue before a U.S. House of Representatives House Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, according to John Garrison, director of the Trust's southwest Florida office. Others testifying were heads of major non-profit organizations such as the Nature Conservancy, Garrison said.
"The Friends group has been a champion in support of efforts to protect Estate Maho Bay," he said. "We are pleased that the subcommittee heard from Joe just how truly spectacular this land is and its importance for inclusion in the national park."
The Trust is looking for $4.5 million in 2009 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and the same amount in 2010.
The Trust borrowed $18 million to buy the property, but donations funded half the purchase.
"Some were big checks, some were small checks," Garrison said, noting they were all targeted at the Maho Bay fund. He is confident the Trust will receive the federal funding. If it doesn't, the Trust will be forced to sell off some of the Maho Bay land to pay back the loan.
Garrison served as Friends president before Kessler, who said the Trust needs the federal funding to pay back the loan so it can convey the title to the National Park Service.
The chairman of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee, Rep. Norman Dicks (D-Wash.), made a visit to St. John about six months ago to see firsthand the situation at Maho Bay.
The committee is working on the budget, Kessler said, so his testimony came at a critical time.
"In our 19 years of work in support of V.I. National Park, we have been involved in many initiatives, projects and activities that help this park be a model of natural-resource protection and cultural preservation," he said. "But none have been as important as our work in support of the acquisition of Estate Maho Bay and its incorporation within the park."
The acquisition of the Estate Maho Bay property would be the first link of two separated blocks of land owned by the National Park Service, ensuring future access, resource connectivity and seaside protection, Kessler said.
"It is critical that federal funding comes through this year so that we can make that a reality," he said.
Kessler's testimony is the latest chapter in the lengthy Maho Bay story. After working on the project for several years, the Trust now owns a 7/11 share of the property. The park owns 3/11. Another 1/11 belongs to a Marsh family member who doesn't want to sell.
The heirs each got a six-acre lot. According to the terms of the sale, each heir can build up to two homes on the lot.
The entire parcel totals 419.5 acres, but the amount of acreage the Trust will convey to the park totals 207 acres, Garrison said. The other 212.5 acres includes that owned by the heirs and land already owned by the park and the Trust.
Anyone who wants to help fund the Maho Bay project should send a check to Brenda McClymonds, Trust for Public Land, 7900 Red Road, Suite 25, Miami, FL, 33143.
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