Governor Charles Turnbull met with the new Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, last week to discuss the possibility of a land swap on St. John, according to a Government House prepared statement.
Government officials have been talking for years about trading off-shore cays in exchange for mid-island V.I. National Park-controlled land in order to build a public school complex.
The latest reports that Turnbull met with Kempthorne about the issue is the first time the land swap question has been in the forefront of political agendas.
Trading Several Cays
Turnbull discussed the need for a comprehensive school, from kindergarten through the 12 grade on St. John, as well as the need for a vocational complex and satellite classrooms for th University of the Virgin Islands, according to the press release. Because most of St. John is part of the National Park System, there are few available sites for such a school.
It remains unclear where exactly the new school would be located but previous discussions centered around a relatively flat area in Estate Catherineberg. In exchange, the V.I. Government would trade several off-shore cays, which the would then be protected from any future development.
Very Productive Meeting
Secretary Kempthorne was open to the idea, according to the statement from Government House.
The meeting was very productive, according to the press release. As a former governor, Kempthorne is keenly aware of the importance of good neighborhood schools, the need for adequate infrastructure to protect the environment and the public public health, as well as the necessity of diversifying and promoting economic development.
As Turnbull faces his last few months in office this fall, after serving two terms, the St. John land swap issue might become a top priority.
I am looking forward to working closely with Kempthorne on these important issues during the balance of my term, according to the prepared statement. Although neither regional or local NPS officials had any information about the top brasss discussions, V.I. Senator Shawn-Michael Ma-lone issued a press release about possible the land swap.
V.I. Senator Supports Plan
I am pleased to learn about the recent developments and discussions between Governor Charles Turnbull and Secretary of the Interior, Dirk Kempthorne, to establish a comprehensive school on St. John, according to the prepared statement. For too long students have commuted to St. Thomas to attend Ivana Eudora Kean High School to further their studies because St. John only had elementary and junior high schools.
The construction of a high school on St. John will further mark the development of the island and will demonstrate that the island is continually improving, according to Malones press release. I think the governors decision to swap land is a reasonable one that will yield positive results for the residents of St. John for years to come.
Senator-at-Large Craig Barshinger also supports this measure and recently sent a letter Governor Turnbull urging him to designate V.I. Government lands which would be swapped for a 10-acre school.
Barshinger Backs Land Swap
Its good for the V.I. because it allows us to have a first class educational facility with K through 12 grades and the possibility of a U.V.I. satellite presence, said Barshinger. In fact, as far back as 2002, the 2002 Team Democrats had on our platform the rebuilding and relocation of Julius E. Sprauve School on St. John.
So I can assure you that the legislature is behind the move to create an educational complex on St. John, the senator continued.
There are a number of possible areas around St. John to swap to the National Park Service, Barshinger explained.
We can offer V.I. government lands that are presently already in preservation and now they will be in preservation for perpetuity, he said. This is a rare example of the V.I. government being able to have our cake and eat it too.