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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, May 20, 2024
HomeNewsArchivesSenate Committee Eyes Heritage Status for St. Croix

Senate Committee Eyes Heritage Status for St. Croix

Michael Dembeck (left) and Tourism official Brad Nugent testify on the proposal to create a commission to plan for the centennial observance of the territory's transfer to the United States.A pair of bills introduced Monday in the Senate Committee on Education, Culture and Youth focus on the heritage, culture and history of the U.S. Virgin Islands, which backers say point the way to improving the future by recognizing the past.

The first bill presented Monday would urge Congress to designate St. Croix as a National Heritage Area (NHA). The drive to get St. Croix heritage status was started two years ago by Congressional Delegate Donna Christensen, and taken up with fervor by its supporters, who say such a designation would give St. Croix a new way of marketing itself and become a rallying point for community activity and pride in the island’s history.

If the measure is forwarded by the National Parks Service to Congress, and legislators approve, the group coordinating the area will be eligible for $150,000 annually for three years to put together a comprehensive plan; then $1 million a year for 10 years to implement it, according to Claudette Young Hinds, president of SUCCEED Inc. (St. Croix United for Community Culture, Environment and Economic Development.)

Perhaps the most important testimony offered was a discussion of what the designation would not do. Many people fear that because the program comes under the purview of the National Park System, it would affect property rights and local control of land-use decision making.

That’s not the case at all, according to Hinds. Under an NHA designation, there would be no property or title transfer, and the program would be managed by a local entity.

SUCCEED is one of two entities vying to be that coordinating agency; the St. Croix Landmarks Association is the other. But both Hinds and Landmarks Executive Director Sonia Jacobs-Dow said who’s in charge isn’t as important as getting approval.

While all the testifiers spoke in favor of proposal, there were quibbles with the wording. Hinds suggested that reference to the "seven flags" that have flown over St. Croix tilts the playing field toward the European colonizers, ignoring the pre-Columbian residents of the islands and slighting what she called, "the eighth flag," the Africans who were transported across the ocean as slaves and whose contributions now form the rich foundation on which Crucian culture rests.

The second bill presented Monday looks at establishing a commission to prepare for the 2017 centennial celebration of the transfer of the territory from Denmark to the United States. Sen. Wayne James’ bill would create a 13-member commission (five from St. Thomas, five from St. Croix and three from St. John) under the Department of Tourism and set up a "Centennial Special Fund" of $10 million to finance the centennial celebration.

Michael Dembeck, executive director of the St. Croix Chamber of Commerce, said chamber members were enthusiastic about the commission, but thought that calling for a $10 million budget before even preliminary plans have been discussed was "both premature and excessive." He noted that both Arizona and New Mexico appropriated $50,000 for their statehood centennials, and one of their commissions’ first jobs in both cases was to find corporate sponsors.

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