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Group Doesn't Want to Give Up Land for St. John

May 12, 2005 – Members of the Hassel Island Preservation Trust Inc. are concerned about a proposed land swap between the V.I. government and the V.I. National Park Service.
The government is currently negotiating to exchange nine-tenths of an acre of land on Hassel Island for 10 acres of land near Maho Bay on St. John from the National Park Service for the construction of a high school.
However, The Hassel Island Preservation Trust doesn't like the proposal because the Hassel Island parcel is the only remaining public land on the approximately 200-acre island, and it houses three historic relics – Cowell's Battery on Signal Hill, Fort Willoughby and the Garrison House. The National Park and individuals own the rest of Hassel Island.
Rik Van Rensselaer, president of the Hassel Island Preservation Trust, said Thursday his organization was "disgusted" with the government negotiations.
"It's all been done quietly," Van Rensselaer said. "We feel the properties on Hassel Island belong to the people, and if they're going to swap it, the decision needs to be made by the people."
The government had not publicly announce the negotiations, but in a Feb. 14 letter to Gov. Charles W. Turnbull – recently made available to Van Rensselaer – attorney George Dudley told the governor that he needed the government's confirmation in drafting an agreement for the land swap. Dudley said in the letter that any agreement entered into with the government would require V.I. Legislature approval before being implemented, but a signed contract had to be in place before approaching the Legislature.
"Discussions are taking place right now, but nothing has been confirmed yet," James O'Bryan, St. Thomas-Water Island Administrator and spokesman for the governor, said Thursday.
Van Rensselaer said he hopes the government will bring the matter to the people before making a decision. He said he does not support the swap because the National Park already owns most of the property on Hassel Island and "has not done anything to that land."
"Those three properties are priceless," Van Rensselaer said of the property on Hassel Island. "We're not giving away the people's treasure on Hassel Island for 10 acres of low land on St. John."
Van Rensselaer said he knows the construction of a high school on St. John is essential, but the government could go about it another way. He said there are people in the community who would more than likely be willing to aid in some way.
"Open it up to the public," Van Rensselaer said. "Let the people know, and you'll be surprised what can happen."
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