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Charlotte Amalie
Monday, February 26, 2024
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Status of Land Swap Questioned

Whistling Cay, as seen from the north shore of St. John, is within V.I. National Park waters but is owned by the territory. (Photo by Amy H. Roberts)

Sen. Angel Bolques Jr. told the Source this week that he is confident that negotiations concerning water rights around Whistling Cay will not “hinder” the proposed land swap with the National Park Service. The land swap will give the Virgin Islands government land in Estate Catherineberg on St. John to build a school.

However, St. John resident David Silverman told the Source in an email Tuesday that he believed the swap was in jeopardy.

At the center of the discussion, and where more disagreement emerged, is an amendment that failed Senate passage on Nov. 15. Bolques introduced the amendment and said it would not change the situation as far as residents using the waters around Whistling Cay were concerned.

However, Sen. Alma Francis Heyliger disagreed fervently with that assessment. Six of Heylinger’s colleagues agreed with her assessment and joined her in voting Nay on the amendment, bringing about its failure.

Silverman said the amendment would entirely remove the protections promised by the governor and debated during the passage of the bill. The new amendment stated that waterway use must be “consistent with the NPS Organic Act and all applicable federal laws.”

In Heylinger’s attack on the amendment, she said federal law always supersedes any law the territory makes.

The National Park Service oversees Buck Island Reef National Monument off St. Croix. Water skiing, jet skiing, and any fishing or collection are prohibited.

In September, Silverman presented an alternative to legislators that would take concerns about any fishing or commercial activities on the water near Whistling Cay out of the equation. Silverman proposed not swapping Whistling Cay to the U.S. government but instead swapping a 13.2-acre parcel of land in Estate Carolina. Silverman and his wife had recently acquired the property and offered to donate it to the government. Senate President Novelle Francis said the Senate did not have the authority to act on Silverman’s proposal. The parcel is landlocked.

An email to the governor’s office earlier this week questioning the status of the land swap was not answered.

Silverman wrote the Source, “At the moment, it appears that the NPS and the GVI are at an impasse.”

Bolques wrote, “Negotiations with federal authorities are ongoing, and we are working diligently to reach a mutually beneficial agreement. The requirement for the Government of the Virgin Islands to maintain certain rights concerning the water around Whistling Cay is a complex issue.”

Olasee Davis, who lectures and writes about the culture, history, and environment of the Virgin Islands, along with other opponents of the swap, points to the historical relevance of Whistling Cay, where there are the ruins of a Custom House built 300 years ago.

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