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DeJongh Takes Up School Issue with Interior Secretary

June 22, 2008 — The exchange of land at Estate Grange on St. Croix for land at Estate Catherineberg on St. John so the local government can build a school was on Gov. John deJongh Jr.'s agenda when he met last week with Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne in Washington, D.C.
"It's a work in progress," Government House spokesman Jean Greaux said Sunday of discussions on the land swap.
He said the Florida-based Trust for Public Land is still negotiating with the Armstrong family trust for the public land trust to buy the land. The Trust for Public Land would then sell the land to the local government, which would exchange it with the federal government for some portion of the V.I. National Park-owned land at Catherineberg.
The Estate Grange property, which served as the boyhood home of the first secretary of the U.S. Treasury, Alexander Hamilton, is slated to become a National Park facility.
DeJongh also briefed Kempthorne on the V.I. government’s strategy to develop significant tourist attractions on St. Croix.
The governor announced that the land swap was in the works at a May press conference on St. John.
St. John residents have long requested that a combined elementary and high school be built on St. John. At present, public high school students must take the ferry to St. Thomas to attend school. The island's two elementary schools are old and the one in Cruz Bay, Julius E. Sprauve School, sits in a congested and noisy area.
According to a Saturday Government House press release, the governor and Kempthorne also discussed a range of key economic development initiatives, the energy crisis, air transportation and other various National Park issues.
"I thought it necessary to meet the secretary on these key issues and to thank him for taking a personal interest in the St. John school issue, which has included his providing a $200,000 technical-assistance grant to conduct various studies at the proposed school site in Estate Catherineberg," DeJongh said in the statement.
The governor had previously announced this technical assistance grant at the St. John press conference.
According to the press release, Kempthorne reaffirmed the Interior Department’s commitment to assisting the V.I. government in resolving the decades-old school issue.
"The technical assistance grant was a good way to demonstrate that we are serious and the timing was right," deJongh said.
During his visit to Washington, deJongh also met with the territory’s closest congressional allies, including Ways and Means Committee Chairman Rep. Charles Rangel of New York, Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah, Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, Sen. Mike Crapo of Idaho, Sen. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, and Delegate Donna M. Christensen.
The three days of congressional meetings covered a range of economic development initiatives, the Economic Development Commission program, the Tax Extenders bill now being debated, and the rum tax rebate.
DeJongh also presented the redesigned Alexander Hamilton Award medallions to Rangel and Crapo, the 2006 award recipients.
On Thursday, deJongh flew from Washington, D.C. to Chicago for a Democratic governors' dinner with presumptive Democratic Party presidential candidate Sen. Barack Obama. In Chicago, deJongh and the nation’s Democratic governors met with Obama to discuss political strategy and party fund-raising.
DeJongh returned to the Virgin Islands Friday night.
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