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Charlotte Amalie
Sunday, May 26, 2024


Nov. 20, 2001 — A federal judge’s decision last week to uphold President Bill Clinton’s creation of six national monuments in the western United States will not stop Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christensen’s efforts to have similar designations in the territory undone.
U.S. District Judge Paul Friedman’s decision shot down a challenge by Denver-based Mountain States Legal Defense Fund, which argued that the monument designations in Oregon, Washington, Colorado and Arizona were unnecessary, undertaken without consultation with local citizens, and unconstitutional, according to William Perry Pendley, president and chief legal officer for MSLF, a nonprofit, "public interest legal center dedicated to individual liberty, the right to own and use property, limited government and the free enterprise system," according to the group's website. In challenging the monuments, MSLF asserted that because the Constitution vests Congress with exclusive authority over federal lands and because President Clinton exercised unlimited power his actions were unconstitutional or illegal.
Friedman, however, dismissed the lawsuit, which was supported by mining, timber and off-road vehicle associations, saying that Clinton had acted appropriately under the Antiquities Act, which was enacted by Congress in 1906. The law allows presidents to act without congressional approval to safeguard objects of historic and scientific interest.
Among the monuments declared in the waning days of Clinton's tenure, and vigorously supported by then Interior Secretary Bruce Babbitt, were the 12,700-acre V.I. Coral Reef National Monument off St. John and the 18,000-acre expansion of the Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix.
The designation and expansion, which ban fishing, anchoring and other activities in the areas in order to conserve and restore coral reef ecosystems and marine life, have raised the ire of local politicians and fishermen who claim the land in question belongs to the people of the Virgin Islands and that little to no local input was taken before the designations.
Those who contend that the submerged land belongs to the territory point to an act carried out by then-President Gerald Ford in 1974 that transferred the land in question to the Virgin Islands. However, the Interior Department under Babbitt disagreed.
Christensen subsequently requested that the U.S. Government Accounting Office study the dispute and write an opinion, which would be non-binding. The GAO has has not yet released the report.
Despite the judge’s ruling, Brian Modeste, Christensen’s legislative director, said there is no direct implication for the local monuments because they were not included in the suit. And because the Antiquities Act gives the president the authority to designate monuments on lands that are owned by the federal government.
"Our questions or objections about the V.I. designations did not deal with the President's authority to designate the monuments," Modeste said. "But rather whether the designations were themselves legal because we believe that the federal government does not own the submerged lands
which are the subject of the monuments."
In May, Gov. Charles Turnbull wrote then newly appointed Interior Secretary Gale Norton, who once served as lead attorney at Mountain States Legal Fund, and reiterated the V.I. government’s position. Turnbull said the issue needed to be settled before any management plans for the monuments are put in place.
According to Clinton's proclamation, the National Park Service has two years to prepare a management plan for Buck Island and three years for the St. John monument. Norton essentially said that input from the local community will be taken during the management plan process.

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