Interior Secretary Wraps Up V.I Visit on St. John

Aug. 22, 2008 — After a whirlwind visit to St. Thomas and St. Croix Thursday, Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne wrapped up his trip Friday with a press conference and tour around St. John.
"I've seen the beauty of every one of these islands," he said in his remarks outside the V.I. National Park Visitor's Center.
About 75 people attended the press conference. Many were park staff, as well as local government officials and their staffs. A smattering of St. John residents rounded out the group.
Kempthorne discussed the plan to build a combined elementary and high school on St. John.
"There is no doubt in my mind that the greatest natural resource is not the national park, but our children," he said.
The school will be built on about 10 acres of land at Catherineberg, St. John now owned by the park. The deal has the non-profit group Trust for Public Land buying 115 acres of land outside Christiansted, St. Croix, at Estate Grange for the National Park Service to ultimately turn into a national park facility honoring Alexander Hamilton. When the deal is finalized, the Trust will turn the St. Croix land over to the local government, which will swap all but 40 acres to be used for farms for the land at Catherineberg.
Kempthorne followed up his remarks with a visit to the plantation-era ruins at Catherineberg, located within the park and close to where the school will be built.
Standing in the Catherineberg sugar mill, the park's resource management chief, Rafe Boulon, outlined details of where the school would go. He noted the lay of the land.
"It's relatively flat," Boulon said.
Additionally, the school won't be visible from the ocean, which Boulon said would protect the park's view shed. People who live in upscale homes nearby raised concerns about having the school in their neighborhood, Boulon told Kempthorne.
The local government will float bonds to pay for construction of the school once the land issue is sorted out, Gov. John deJongh Jr. told the Source during the Catherineberg visit.
While Kempthorne announced a handful of grants for various projects across the territory Thursday, on Friday he added one to help Coral Bay, St. John, to the list. The territory will get a $981,000 grant to start work on a desalinization system for the area, he said.
The money will pay for the land for the plant, as well as intake and outflow pipes. The reverse-osmosis plant itself will come later.
The V.I. Water and Power Authority is negotiating with landowners in Coral Bay for an acre of land to build the desalinization plant, WAPA Director Hugo Hodge said, but he declined to say who they were or where the land sits.
The Coral Bay area has 800 low- and medium-income residents who spent $700 a year for trucked water, according to Kempthorne.
When asked by the Source if there were any specific funds targeted for the St. John park to address its $20 million maintenance backlog, Kempthorne hedged. He said $5 billion has been invested across the National Park Service system.
Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove added that the park's maintenance issues are being addressed with better planning and the help of partnerships.
"We are not in terrible shape," he said.
Kempthorne also made note of the fact that Sen. Basil Ottley will join his staff as the V.I. desk officer. (See "Ottley Leaving Senate for Government Job in Washington.")
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