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Charlotte Amalie
Tuesday, July 16, 2024


The National Park Service’s effort to purchase land around the Salt River Bay National Historic Park has taken another step with acquisition of 21 acres.
The acreage is part of a larger 74-acre tract in the park’s northeastern section that contains the remnants of a hotel. The 21 acres was purchased from a Texan ownership group on Sept. 29 for $450,000, with the Park Service having a two-year option to buy the remaining acreage for $1.1 million, said Joel Tutein, superintendent of the Park Service on St. Croix.
Sept. 29 also saw the closing of a $700,000 deal the Source first reported in April in which the Park Service purchased 106 acres in the southwestern section of Salt River Bay, also known as the Ott property.
"We’re far from finished," Tutein said. "We’ve put in a request for additional land acquisition money as well."
Although the boundaries of Salt River National Park were drawn in 1992 by then President George Bush, the vast majority of acreage has been in private ownership until recently.
The park, co-managed by the Park Service and the V.I. government, consists of 600 acres of submerged land and 312 acres of land adjacent to Salt River Bay. The V.I. government owns about 52 acres in the area, including the five-acre Columbus Landing site. With the purchases, the Park Service now owns approximately 150 acres and has the option to buy 53 more acres.
The remaining acreage consists of small individual tracts, including the plot on which the Salt River Marina is located.
The eight-year effort to acquire land for the park has been hampered by a host of challenges, including reluctant private-property owners, a seemingly disinterested local government and past Republican-controlled Congresses.
In 1994, Tutein and his team on St. Croix received $3 million from Congress, then controlled by Democrats, for land purchases around Salt River. But because of a lack of action by former government administrations in approving the park’s Land Protection Plan, the funding was taken back.
In 1998, $1.2 million was again appropriated to purchase land, which has resulted in the recent deals.
Tutein had to be creative when arranging for the recent land purchases because of his limited budget. With the purchase of the 21 acres at the end of September for $450,000 and the $700,000 for the 106-acre Ott property, the remaining hotel property will have to be bought later.
"I just juggled the $1.2 million with high hopes I’ll get the remaining money," Tutein said.
In June, afer almost eight years, Gov. Charles Turnbull finally named the Virgin Islands government’s members to the park’s management board. They are Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Dean Plaskett, Senate president Vargrave Richards, assistant schools Supt. Terrence Joseph and St. Croix Assistant Tourism Commissioner Pamela Richards.
The Park Service has named four members — Maxwell McIntosh, Jessica Thompson, Gerville Larsen and Roy Adams. In addition to the eight appointed members, the commission by law also includes the governor or a designee and the Secretary of the Interior or a designee.
The commission is charged with overseeing park management plans, particularly regarding its natural and cultural resources. National Park Service officials have said there is a crucial need for stepped-up efforts to preserve the V.I. government’s five-acre Columbus Landing site. The area contain artifacts of the peoples predating Columbus and the ruins of an old French fort.

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