CRUZ BAY — A window has been cracked open to allow officials an opportunity to engineer a land swap for a public school on St. John near the Virgin Islands National Park.
Under the agreement signed Thursday, Interior officials and those from the local government will have a year to work out a land swap acceptable to both parties.
The agreement opens the door for St. John officials to finally achieve their long-standing effort to construct the first K-12 public school on St. John.
Public education on St. John is currently only available through the eighth grade. In order to complete a high school education, students must commute by boat to St. Thomas each day during the school year.
“Today’s historic progress is long overdue,” Assistant Secretary for Fish and Wildlife and Parks Rob Wallace said. “It marks the first time the two governments have made a commitment to initiate the official process towards a final agreement. The Trump Administration and the U.S. Department of the Interior are determined to get this done for the people of St. John.”
“This preliminary agreement is a promissory note to the students of St. John,” Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. said. “We need this land exchange to finally guarantee an excellent, safe education for all USVI students.”
“The Office of Insular Affairs team has worked hard to help facilitate the exchange of lands between the National Park Service and the Government of the U.S. Virgin Islands, and we are pleased to provide the necessary funding support and to help ensure successful next steps,” Douglas W. Domenech, Assistant Secretary, Insular and International Affairs, said. “We congratulate all parties for bringing this preliminary agreement to fruition to help benefit the students and families of St. John.”
In September 2020, the DOI Office of Insular Affairs provided $300,000 to the NPS to help fund the pre-requisite environmental compliance process to assess the impacts from actions associated with the exchange of lands on both people and resources. The environmental compliance process will evaluate the impacts of the intended use on cultural and natural resources as well as give the public ample opportunities to make their voice heard.
“We have waited a long time to get to this point, but there is more work to be done,” said Margaret Everson, Counselor to the Secretary, exercising the delegated authority of the National Park Service Director. “The National Park Service under the Trump Administration is glad to move efforts forward toward a commonsense solution that will help St. John families while continuing to honor our role as stewards of this special place entrusted to our care.”