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HomeNewsArchivesCOURT UPHOLDS NATIONAL PARK USER PERMIT FEES

COURT UPHOLDS NATIONAL PARK USER PERMIT FEES

Sept. 27, 2002 – District Court Judge Thomas K. Moore told a group of St. John taxi drivers on Friday that they — or their organization — will have to pay the commercial user fees that the National Park Service put into effect for the V.I. National Park at the start of this year.
The St. John Taxi Association challenged the $250 annual association permit imposed as of last Jan. 1. The drivers argued that the roads that run through the park are public roads, and since they already pay franchise fees and road taxes, they should not have to pay an additional fee for conducting tours in the park. (See "Taxi association seeks court injunction on fees".)
"We lost our case," taxi association spokeswoman Lorelei Monsanto said on Friday, adding that Moore ruled that park officials "have a right to charge commercially because the roads go through their property."
But Monsanto said an appeal is being prepared and will be filed within the next 10 days.
The park's Commercial Services Plan, adopted by the National Park Service last year, requires taxi drivers or their associations to pay an annual fee for a permit to operate in the park. The suit, filed on Jan. 2, asked the court for a permanent injunction against any park plan to charge taxi drivers a fee to use park facilities.
(Park Superintendent John King was out of the territory on Friday but returned on Saturday to say that he had been expecting the judge to rule in favor of the park. He said of the taxi association, "It is their prerogative to file an appeal, but it is our intention to contact them, send them a permit application and ask that they complete that, bring it in and get a decal.")
The park initially set the permit fees at $300 for individual drivers and $750 for associations and companies. An association fee covers all of its members. After driver protests and political debates last fall, Park Superintendent John King announced that he was reducing the fees to $75 and $250, respectively. No permits are required for drivers who strictly transport people from point A to point B.
A number of individual drivers, some of them association members, went ahead and got permits on their own so they could continue operating in the park, King said in March. As of that time, he said, 83 drivers had done so.
The St. John Taxi Association, however, remained adamant that it would not pay a penny. The association represents 55 independent drivers who together provide a large share of the transportation services through the national park during tourist season.
In rejecting the association's request for an injunction halting imposition of the permit fees, Moore said in a bench ruling that Congress had granted the National Park Service the right to impose such fees.
(Park officials decided not to issue citations to drivers who were a party to the court challenge. But now that the ruling has upheld the commercial use permits, King said on Saturday, he is asking the association to pay its permit fee and pick up the decals which show rangers that its drivers are in compliance with the program. "We certainly hope they would do as the judge has ruled," he said.)
The comprehensive Commercial Services Plan was developed to institute uniform policies for the conduct of businesses providing guest services within the V.I. National Park, and to promote the park's mission to preserve natural resources while those businesses continue to operate.
Moore is expected to issue his written opinion in the case next week.

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