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Senate Subcommittee Head Expected in Territory

May 7, 2005 — Members of the V.I. public and private sectors are anticipating a visit from a federal lawmaker this weekend. Sen. Craig Thomas, a Republican from Wyoming, who heads the Senate Subcommittee on Parks, Historic Preservation and Recreation was expected to arrive in the territory Thursday. He is also reportedly going to meet with top officials of the Virgin Islands National Park but plans are also being laid for him to hear from participants in V.I.'s Economic Development Commission tax incentive program. Thomas is also a member of the Senate Finance Committee.
According to aides in Delegate Donna M. Christensen's local offices the delegate was also on her way home to meet with Thomas and EDC beneficiaries on St. John. Attempts to reach Christensen Thursday for confirmation were not successful.
Joe Kessler, Friends of the Virgin Islands National Park executive director, said Thomas and at least one other member of Congress made plans to visit the territory to take part in talks related to Homeland Security inside the park system. But when plans changed and the meeting was called off, Thomas decided to make the trip anyway.
Kessler said it was a decision that will benefit the local park service. Kessler said Thomas was, "very involved in issues related to us here," because of his role on the national parks subcommittee.
He also indicated the superintendent of the St. John park service, Art Frederick, would meet with Thomas shortly after his scheduled arrival on Thursday. Frederick could not be reached for comment, but an assistant in his office said talks with Thomas were expected to take place.
There was no indication what subjects would be covered during those discussions. And while Kessler said he had no personal knowledge of who would meet where and what would take place, he said it was likely Thomas would hear from the EDC group.
"He's also a member of the Finance Committee so he's probably going to have some discussions with territorial government officials on issues related to perhaps EDC or some other things like that," Kessler said.
For the past several days goverment officials in the Virgin Islands have been talking about the future of the EDC program and seeking ways to mitigate the potentially disastrous effects of amendments to the tax law attached to American Jobs Creation Act of 2004.
In discussions held in the VI Legislature Wednesday, Senate President Lorraine Berry said government revenues had fallen sharply since the Jobs Act was signed into law, leading some EDC beneficiaries to leave the Virgin Islands.
Aides from Christensen's offices on St. Thomas and St. Croix said the delegate was expected to join a round table discussion with Thomas and a group of investors between Friday and Saturday and take part in an informal dinner afterwards at the Lime Inn in Cruz Bay.
Gov. Charles W. Turnbull in recent days has also stepped up his efforts to gain concessions from Washington over recent change in the tax laws. Speaking on a radio talk show last week the governor said part of his strategy would include one-on-one talks with members of the U.S. Senate, some of whom he had invited to visit the territory.
Senators invited by some of the beneficiaries have already visited. They have been encouraged to come to the V.I. by commitments to raise funds for them. The invitation comes with a $50,000 price tag.
Editor's note: Shaun A. Pennington also contributed to this story.

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