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Land Exchange for School Expected to Take Months

June 6, 2008 — A deal to exchange land on St. Croix for land within V.I. National Park so the local government can build a school on St. John won't get finalized before the end of the year, a land-preservation leader told about 15 members of the Rotary Club of St. John on Friday.
"It's going to be awhile," said John Garrison, who heads the southwest Florida office of the Florida-based Trust for Public Land. The Rotary Club held its weekly meeting at the Westin Resort and Villas.
Garrison offered kudos to Gov. John deJongh Jr. for proposing that the local government buy 115 acres of land at Estate Grange on St. Croix that the National Park Service wants for a park to honor Alexander Hamilton. The deal was announced in late May at a press conference on St. John. (See "New St. John School Finally Approved.")
Hamilton grew up on St. Croix, but left for New York at age 17. He eventually went on to become the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury. His mother is buried at Estate Grange, located outside Christiansted, and Hamilton lived there as a boy.
The land is owned by the Armstrong family trust. Garrison put the price at $4 million.
The Trust is involved in that negotiation, but the organization won't be involved in the land swap between the local government and the National Park Service, Garrison said.
However, Garrison pointed out that the value of the land on St. Croix has to equal the value on the land on St. John for the swap to happen.
The swap will involve some portion of 55 acres of land at Catherineberg on St. John. Garrison said he doesn't know how much land will be swapped, but said the land in question is less desirable than other parcels in the area because it runs along Centerline Road and has no view. Therefore the price would be lower than other nearby parcels.
"The exact acreage will be determined by appraisal," he said.
Of the 115 acres on St. Croix slated for the park to honor Alexander Hamilton, the local government will retain 40 acres, Garrison said. The land is currently leased to a farmers' cooperative for growing fruits and vegetables.
As the land swap moves forward, a bill to lease land at Catherineberg for the school appears stalled in the U.S. Congress, Garrison said. It passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but only got as far as a hearing in the U.S. Senate.
"It didn't get much traction in Congress," Garrison said. "The feeling was it would establish a precedent."
In updating the Rotarians on other projects, Garrison said the organization is in discussion with the owners of the land on which St. John's Maho Bay Camps sits. Geri Geri's lease to Maho is up in 2012, and the property is on the market for $32 million.
"The asking price is phenomenally interesting," Garrison said.
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