Nov. 21, 2003 A deal for the Park Service to turn over land within V.I. National Park in St. John to the local government for a much-needed school is inching its way toward a conclusion.
"There's nothing finalized, but it looks better now than it's ever looked," St. John Administrator Julien Harley said.
The swap now under discussion would give the local government a lease on park land in exchange for five acres owned by the Virgin Islands government within Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Ecological Preserve.
"The feds can best protect the park land in St. Croix," U.S. Attorney David Nissman said, who has been a strong proponent of developing the Salt River site as a monument.
While land at Hammer Farm, also called Catherineberg, is preferred for the school, Harley said if that parcel can't be used then another area within the park on St. John could be a possibility.
Nissman said that national park land in St. John must be leased rather than actually swapped thanks to deed restrictions. When Laurence Rockefeller turned over the land in 1956 to the federal government for the park, he inserted a restrictive clause that calls for all his donations reverting to his foundation if any parcels are sold.
"That's not something we want to mess with," Nissman said. He said a long-term lease is an option.
Nissman is a key player in the negotiations. As U.S. Attorney, he represents the national parks in legal matters. He said he is now working on building public support for the deal.
Nissman spoke this week to the St. Croix Hotel and Tourism Association at a Rotary West meeting and appeared on a radio talk show. He plans to address groups in St. John as well.
Joel Tutein, superintendent of the National Park Service in St. Croix, said various ideas have been kicked around for years but never went beyond the talking stage.
Art Frederick, superintendent at the St. John park, said that since he had only been here six weeks he had not formed opinions on the matter.
"But I will work with whomever to bring some type of resolve," he said.
He said he has to discuss the issue with officials at the regional headquarters in Atlanta, which should happen in a couple of weeks.
St. John needs to move Julius E. Sprauve School out of downtown Cruz Bay because the students are subjected to continuous traffic noise that makes learning difficult. Additionally, the idea of building a public high school for St. John students, who now must commute to St. Thomas, is growing in favor.
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