VINP Planning Is Back on Track

After more than three years in the works, V.I. National Park (VINP) officials are still fine tuning proposed General Management Plans (GMP) for both the VINP and the Coral Reef National Monument (CRNM) and expect to conduct the next round of public hearings this summer.

Started more than three years ago with a series of meetings and a public commenting period, the GMP drafting process will culminate in a document which will guide VINP and CRNM initiatives and programs for the next 15 to 20 years, according to officials.

The GMP planning team — which consists of officials from the National Park Service regional office in Atlanta, local VINP representatives and employees of Parsons, an environmental consulting firm contracted to write the actual document — last conducted a series of public hearings in May 2006  under the direction of former VINP Superintendent Art Frederick.

Public Input
At those hearings, GMP planning officials shared four possible alternative plans for the VINP garnered from more than 850 public comments ranging from a “no action” plan to a highly conservation-minded plan. The public also heard about three alternative plans for the CRNM.

Residents shared strong feelings opposing proposed camping areas in “backcountry zones” and calling for additional parking areas throughout the park.

Since Frederick left his post in September 2006 to take a NPS regional managerial position, the VINP was run by two temporary superintendents before Mark Hardgrove came on board as the permanent appointment in August.

In the first action on the GMP since May 2006, the planning team met with Hardgrove late last month.

“We met to evaluate the alternatives now that they have been repackaged,” said Hardgrove. “The Park Service threw out a bunch of ideas and then conducted public scoring and reaction to those ideas. Some things were liked and some things were not liked about the alternatives presented.”

Choosing by Advantage
The team is focusing on positive aspects of the proposed alternatives plans, Hardgrove explained.

“We are choosing by advantages,” he said. “We’re looking at which alternative has the highest level of cultural preservation, natural resource preservation and visitor happiness.”

After four and a half days of meetings, the team did not reach a consensus but pledged additional analysis of the plans, Hardgrove added.

“We have gone and ranked the alternatives,” he said. “The planning team will go back and re-analyze the data and then propose a preferred alternative plan for the VINP and the CRNM. Once that gets reviewed and sent to Washington, D.C. and gets back down here, we’ll have another series of public meetings for more feedback.”

The next public hearings could occur as early as this summer, according to the VINP superintendent.

“The meetings could be in August if things go well,” said Hardgrove. “The plan is back on track and the park has done its work.”