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HomeNewsArchivesSt. John School Proposal Hits Snags in U.S. Senate

St. John School Proposal Hits Snags in U.S. Senate

April 23, 2008 — A bill in Congress to provide land for a new school on St. John faces difficult legal and policy issues, according to the U.S. senator who chaired a hearing on the issue Wednesday.
The bill before the House of Representatives would authorize the U.S. Interior Department to lease land within V.I. National Park. The Senate Energy and Natural Resources' Subcommittee on National Parks, chaired by Sen. Daniel Akaka (D-Hawaii), held the hearing in Washington, D.C.
The hearing, which covered 11 bills concerning federal park facilities, was broadcast on the Internet. The bill, sponsored by Delegate Donna M. Christensen, passed the House in September 2007. At Wednesday's hearing, Christensen and St. John resident Lorelei Monsanto asked the Senate to pass the bill.
"The V.I. government has no land on St. John for a school," Christensen said. "Keep the welfare of the children in mind."
She spoke about the poor structural conditions of St. John's public schools, and noted that, in particular, Julius E. Sprauve School sits in a busy and congested area with a "rowdy drinking establishment" across the street. One Sprauve student, Javon Alfred, was killed while walking home from school in Cruz Bay, Christensen told the committee.
St. John residents Alvis Christen and Monsanto's daughter, Lauryn Samuel, were also present at the hearing, but they did not testify, Christensen said. Monsanto spoke on behalf of the One Campus group, which has pushed for the land lease bill.
A land swap rather than a lease might solve the problem, suggested Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), but Christensen and Monsanto opposed the idea. One scenario involves swapping land within the national park on St. John for local government land on St. Croix.
"Swapping land on St. Croix is like asking Texas to give land to Vermont," Monsanto said.
Allowing a land lease would set a bad precedent, according to several people who testified.
"If we agreed to something like that, we would be inundated with requests to have important community pieces in parks," Burr said.
In addition to the precedent issue, the Park Service opposes the land lease bill because it is inconsistent with the original purpose of the park, said Daniel Wenk, deputy director for operations of the Park Service.
Akaka asked Wenk if the property proposed for the lease — 55 acres at Estate Catherineberg sold to the park by Ethel Bishop in 1968 — had any buildings on it. There are buildings, but a school would have to be built, Wenk told him.
Under questioning from Akaka, Wenk said the park operates schools in Yellowstone, Grand Canyon and Yosemite National Park, but does not lease land in any parks to local governments.
Akaka concluded the hearing by noting that the Bush administration also opposes the bill. However, he said he would continue to work with the bill's sponsor to see if some solution can be reached.
One Campus forged new ground by testifying before the Senate, Monsanto said after the hearing.
"We're going to take it all the way to the end," she said.
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