I am writing to express my opposition to HR 53 which would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a long term lease of portions of the Virgin Islands National Park to the government of the Virgin Islands. Please consider the following as you decide on this bill:
– The stated purpose of the lease is to build a new school. Yet no plans have been drawn and no budget estimates exist; nor have any alternatives to a new school been studied. Even if a firm plan is proposed, there is no assurance of any funding from the VI government. Simply put, HR 53 is asking for commitments from the US government while the VI government has made none.
– HR 53 authorizes the lease of US Park Land “for the establishment of a school, and for other purposes.” This gives unlimited latitude for the VI government to use the land in ways that may be even more inconsistent with the mission of the park than building a school, and given the uncertainties of funding mentioned above, this is a very likely outcome.
– A 99-year lease is equivalent to giving the land away since there is no likelihood the land will ever revert to the Department of the Interior. Giving away land entrusted to the care of the entire American people for use by a limited segment of the population is inconsistent with the mission of the National Park System.
– Historically and culturally significant land containing the Catherineberg sugar mill ruins abuts the parcel in question. High-impact development and the resulting increase in human and automobile traffic will jeopardize this fragile, partially restored ruin.
– Local elected officials will not stop their requests for park land if this lease or other transfer of land is approved. Already, at least one elected official to the VI government has publicly expressed interest in the park “donating” an even larger tract of land for other purposes.
The National Park Service has a long and distinguished record of defending national assets from the proprietary claims of a few, no matter how well intentioned. Now is not the time to relinquish that reputation.
Bruce L. Claflin, St. John