One Campus Reaches Out to Secretary of Interior

Dear Secretary Kempthorne,

I am writing to you at the behest of our group, “One Campus,” and for the students of St. John. We wish to request a meeting with you to discuss an issue which is the single most important goal for our island, the building of a new school on St. John. To this end, our group has organized and been involved in pulling together the necessary ingredients to make this happen.

Our reasons for contacting you, as the Secretary of the Interior, is due to the convergence of many government departments, the National Park, the Virgin Islands Government, as well other agencies of which you have oversight. In the following, I will try to explain the matters involved and to ask for your guidance in helping to steer this effort so that the building of a new school may go forward.

At present, our students attend a school on St. John which is in the center of our town of Cruz Bay. This school, which has deteriorated with age, is surrounded by bars, traffic, noise, tourism, and is our “gateway” into the National Park. The location is not conducive for education.

Also, our students attend this school until the ninth grade, after which they must commute to St. Thomas for their education. Many students must start their commute at 4 a.m. and return late in the day, missing after-school programs and recreation. The sad result is that too many of our St. John students miss opportunities and eventually withdraw from advancement, leading to a community of lost youths. For over 30

years, it has been recognized that the school must be relocated from the chaos of our town and modernized for our students.

The main obstacle to moving the school has been the finding of a suitable parcel of land for the school. The island of St. John, which is nearly 60 percent National Park, has steep terrains which are not suitable for a school. Other lands are so expensive that the cost to secure a large parcel of land is out of reach financially. After much research by the Virgin Islands Government and the National Park, the National Park identified a most suitable location in the middle of the island, at a virtual “crossroads,” with a terrain which can afford the construction of a new K thru 12, a vocational center, an athletic park, library, and other essential amenities for a school.

The property deemed best for the school was conveyed to the United States Government, without specifying the National Park Service, in a deed from Mrs. Ethel Bishop, a Virgin Islander, who passed away on March 26, 2006.  Mrs. Bishop’s land lies outside of the original lands creating the National Park, and is not subject to the reversionary clause as other lands of the National Park. And so, together we have selected the most suitable land, land which the National Park says is the best land for this purpose; so does the Virgin Islands Government, the Education Department, and our community all agree that this land is excitingly correct for the school. Now, the question is, how best to carve an agreement for the use of this land.

This is the main reason for our contacting you, Mr. Secretary. To help us resolve the conditions for the use of this land.

Although the National Park has been very positive and helpful in identifying the land, there are concerns that the Park should not set a precedent affecting other National Parks. Our group respects these concerns, however, in this matter, the Park would not be setting a precedent for it was the grantor’s (Mrs. Bishop) desire that her land may be used for “non-commercial residential purposes,” and as, “deemed appropriate by the Secretary of the Interior.”  Therefore, the Park is free from setting a precedent and the United States Government would be obeying the contractual wishes and restrictions of Mrs. Bishop. Moreover, the fact is that the Secretary of the Interior, acting for the United States Government, is empowered to authorize the use of this land for “residential purposes,” such as the building of our public school. With such consideration, the U.S. Government, and the National Park, will always own the land, while the community will be authorized to use a portion of the estate for our school. Clearly, the good intentions of Mrs. Ethel Bishop shall be accomplished by such an authorization.

Although the quickest and most appropriate method to resolve the land use is your authorization, there are other scenarios which are being considered to secure the land. Our Delegate to Congress, Donna Christensen, has put forward Bill HR 53, which seeks to enter into a long-term lease with the Government of the United States for the establishment of a school. As recently as July 9, 2007, there was a Congressional Hearing on St. John to receive testimony on this land-lease proposal. In a room crowded with St. John residents and government officials, the enthusiasm for Bill HR 53 was overwhelming.

Another proposal to secure the land, put forward by the Virgin Islands National Park, considers the possibility of a “land-swap” between the Virgin Islands Government and the Virgin Islands National Park. This proposal greatly lacks the consensus of the people of St. John and is not being well-received. The people of St. John feel strongly that, with the Park owning most of St. John, the Park should aid our community by simply permitting the use of the land.

As we look at these two proposals, we can see the many delays which may occur. The “land-lease” would have to be approved by Congress which may take years; while the “land-swap” could become a very contentious issue, again taking years to resolve. For this reason, our group respectfully appeals to you, Mr. Secretary, to authorize the use of this land so that our community may move forward without the many delays to which these other scenarios may fall victim. Your authorization of a “use permit” would short-cut these delays and our island could proceed immediately with the design and construction of our new public school.

We wish to reiterate that the National Park has selected this location for the school and has been an excellent partner in this effort. The Park sees the moving of the school as essential for our island. Our community is also anxious to begin designing and building the new school and athletic park. Mostly, however, our students need a new school for a new way of life and education.

In closing, Secretary Kempthorne, please consider this request which seeks authorization for the use of this land. With your authorization, all of this can happen quickly and most appropriately for all parties. We would like to meet with you at any time, either here in the Virgin Islands or in Washington, and at your convenience, to discuss this matter further.

We wish to thank you, in advance, for your consideration.

Steve Black,
member, One Campus
One Campus members:
Kristen Cox,
Lorelei Monsanto.
Alvis Christian,
Carol Beckowitz
and Steve Black