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KING, LIBURD SQUARE OFF OVER TAXI TOUR FEES

Oct. 30, 2001 – When the Senate Committee of the Whole meets on St. John at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the V.I. National Park's plan to charge tour operators yearly permit fees, the park will not be represented.
While operators of sailboat charters, kayak tours and other visitor service providers already pay annual permit fees, the plan calls for taxi associations and companies and taxi drivers independently taking people on tours to pay such fees starting Jan. 1.
At a meeting called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd in Cruz Bay last Thursday, taxi drivers vehemently protested what they charged was an unfair imposition of the fees.
King countered Tuesday that if the taxi industry isn't assessed permit fees, "It's not fair for all the other commercial community to pay." He wondered why the taxi drivers thought they were above the law when it came to paying permit fees.
Permits will cost $750 a year for taxi associations and companies and $300 a year for solo tour drivers. Taxi drivers who simply transport people from point A to point B without including a tour in the trip will not have to pay any fees.
King said Tuesday that the meeting called by Liburd with taxi drivers to discuss the issue was non-productive. The taxi drivers spent much of the meeting shouting at King over the permit issue and concerning myriad real and imagined transgressions committed by the park over its 45 years on St. John.
"Out of courtesy I attended that meeting, but I have no intention of participating in a similar event," King said, referring to the Committee of the Whole session set for Monday. He said he announced at the end of Thursday's meeting that he would be happy to meet with a "working group" to hammer out some fine points of the permit fee plan, but he wouldn't attend another public meeting.
Although the taxi drivers complained they'd had no input regarding the permit fee requirement, King pointed out that in the planning process spanning a year and a half, park authorities held a dozen public meetings and solicited comment on its new Commercial Services Plan. The permit program has been approved by the regional office, and King said the park is in the midst of implementing it.
King said he had not received an invitation from Liburd to attend the Monday session, but one addressed to his National Park Service regional director, Jerry Belson in Atlanta, had arrived. He said he heard from a deputy regional director on Tuesday that Belson also would not attend. "They don't think this is an appropriate topic," King said.
Liburd was not happy to hear from a reporter that King had said he would not attend the hearing. "The park is now an entity unto itself and doesn't give a damn about the people of St. John," he said. Saying that the park was "putting rules onto the people of St. John" that would affect their lives, he added, "It's no wonder people have a bad perception of the park."
While he heard King say at Thursday's meeting that park officials had held a dozen public meetings in developing the Commercial Services Plan, Liburd said that taxi drivers and tour operators still needed the opportunity to discuss the permit issue.
Liburd vowed to have Gov. Charles W. Turnbull intervene and promised that he would take "some other action" to force King's hand. He declined to elaborate.
In response to King's comment that he had not received an invitation to attend the hearing, Liburd said his office had faxed a copy to King's office. He also said that King needed "to put it in writing" that he would not attend the Committee of the Whole meeting.

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Oct. 30, 2001 - When the Senate Committee of the Whole meets on St. John at 6 p.m. Monday to discuss the V.I. National Park's plan to charge tour operators yearly permit fees, the park will not be represented.
While operators of sailboat charters, kayak tours and other visitor service providers already pay annual permit fees, the plan calls for taxi associations and companies and taxi drivers independently taking people on tours to pay such fees starting Jan. 1.
At a meeting called by Sen. Almando "Rocky" Liburd in Cruz Bay last Thursday, taxi drivers vehemently protested what they charged was an unfair imposition of the fees.
King countered Tuesday that if the taxi industry isn't assessed permit fees, "It's not fair for all the other commercial community to pay." He wondered why the taxi drivers thought they were above the law when it came to paying permit fees.
Permits will cost $750 a year for taxi associations and companies and $300 a year for solo tour drivers. Taxi drivers who simply transport people from point A to point B without including a tour in the trip will not have to pay any fees.
King said Tuesday that the meeting called by Liburd with taxi drivers to discuss the issue was non-productive. The taxi drivers spent much of the meeting shouting at King over the permit issue and concerning myriad real and imagined transgressions committed by the park over its 45 years on St. John.
"Out of courtesy I attended that meeting, but I have no intention of participating in a similar event," King said, referring to the Committee of the Whole session set for Monday. He said he announced at the end of Thursday's meeting that he would be happy to meet with a "working group" to hammer out some fine points of the permit fee plan, but he wouldn't attend another public meeting.
Although the taxi drivers complained they'd had no input regarding the permit fee requirement, King pointed out that in the planning process spanning a year and a half, park authorities held a dozen public meetings and solicited comment on its new Commercial Services Plan. The permit program has been approved by the regional office, and King said the park is in the midst of implementing it.
King said he had not received an invitation from Liburd to attend the Monday session, but one addressed to his National Park Service regional director, Jerry Belson in Atlanta, had arrived. He said he heard from a deputy regional director on Tuesday that Belson also would not attend. "They don't think this is an appropriate topic," King said.
Liburd was not happy to hear from a reporter that King had said he would not attend the hearing. "The park is now an entity unto itself and doesn't give a damn about the people of St. John," he said. Saying that the park was "putting rules onto the people of St. John" that would affect their lives, he added, "It's no wonder people have a bad perception of the park."
While he heard King say at Thursday's meeting that park officials had held a dozen public meetings in developing the Commercial Services Plan, Liburd said that taxi drivers and tour operators still needed the opportunity to discuss the permit issue.
Liburd vowed to have Gov. Charles W. Turnbull intervene and promised that he would take "some other action" to force King's hand. He declined to elaborate.
In response to King's comment that he had not received an invitation to attend the hearing, Liburd said his office had faxed a copy to King's office. He also said that King needed "to put it in writing" that he would not attend the Committee of the Whole meeting.