Aug. 30, 2004 – Nearly three months after the remaining 200 acres of federally owned land on Water Island was deemed ready for transfer to the V.I. government, U.S. Department of the Interior officials have yet to determine when the transfer will take place.
"The 200 acres will definitely be returned," Keith Parsky, Interior insular and policy affairs specialist, said on Monday, "but I am at a loss to know what time frame."
Water Island consists of about 500 acres of land, 300 of which have already been transferred by Interior to the V.I. government.
For more than 12 years chemical testing of soil on the island was conducted to ensure that no residue remained from 1948-50, when the island was used as a chemical testing and storage site by the U.S. Army Chemical Corps. In June of this year, the island was given a clean bill of health, allowing for transfer of the remaining land. (See "Water Island Gets All-Clear for Transfer to Proceed".)
One senator already has plans for the 200 acres, once they do become V.I. property.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said in a release last month that he is proposing legislation to make the land available for the affordable housing program administered by the Housing Finance Authority.
"Until and unless Water Island land is available for qualified Virgin Islanders to purchase and live there, I will not recognize Water Island as the fourth Virgin Island, as so many continue to trumpet," White said. Once the island in the St. Thomas harbor becomes a place where native Virgin Islanders can reside, he said, it can "truly become" part of the territory.
In his release White stated that an aide to Sen. Louis Hill had said the land would not be available for affordable-housing development. However, Hill said White's statements must have been based on a misunderstanding. "There has not been any discussion with the federal government that the land cannot be developed," Hill said.
Parsky said he could not specify what, if any, restrictions might be placed on the land. But he added, "It's very possible that development will be allowed."
Restrictions could be placed on land use if an area is found to be "sensitive" or "polluted," Parsky said. Interior also could tell the V.I. government the land must be used for public benefit, he added.
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