STATEMENT OF MARTHA BOGLE, ACTING SUPERINTENDENT, VIRGIN
ISLANDS NATIONAL PARK, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF
THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON INSULAR AFFAIRS,
HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING H.R. 53, A
BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO ENTER
INTO A LONG-TERM LEASE WITH THE GOVERNMENT OF THE UNITED
STATES VIRGIN ISLANDS.
July 09, 2007
Ms. Chairwoman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your subcommittee at
this field hearing on H.R. 53, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into
a long-term lease with the Government of the United States Virgin Islands to provide
land for the establishment of a school. Because we do not typically provide positions on
bills at field hearings, I will limit my comments to the history of this proposal and
information concerning the National Park Service's existing administrative authorities to
exchange or lease land within the park. We plan to send a followup letter providing our
position on this bill.
Virgin Islands National Park (park) was authorized by Congress in 1956 and established
largely by an initial land donation from Laurance Rockefeller through the Jackson Hole
Preserve, Incorporated. Congress enlarged the park in 1962 by adding 5,650 acres of
submerged lands along the north and south coasts of St. John. In 1978, Congress added
approximately 135 acres at Hassel Island in St. Thomas Harbor to the park. The park
protects Caribbean forests, coral gardens, beaches, and historic ruins and currently owns
12,917 acres of land and water within its 14,689-acre boundary.
H.R. 53 would authorize the Secretary to lease to the Government of the United States
Virgin Islands real property, including any improvements, for the purposes of
constructing a school complex to serve grades K through 12. The piece of property that
has been tentatively identified for lease is a 10-acre plot that is part of Estate
Catherineberg, a historic sugar plantation located near the center of the island, close to
Centerline Road. The property in question was not part of the Rockefeller donation, and
is not encumbered by the reversionary clause that restricts the use of the Rockefeller
properties to national park purposes. Though no formal survey has been done, the
property is believed to contain fewer historic resources than other parts of the Estate. The
property is near a road and other developments.
During the past 14 years, the Government of the United States Virgin Islands and Virgin
Islands National Park have discussed many proposals that would allow the Government
of the Virgin Islands to construct a school on land currently owned by the National Park
Service. These proposals have included an administrative land exchange. Though the
Secretary of the Interior does have the authority to make minor boundary revisions of a
unit of the National Park System through a land exchange, the Land and Water
Conservation Act stipulates several conditions that must be met before the land is
exchanged and the boundary is revised.
The land gained in the exchange must be "necessary for... the proper preservation,
protection, interpretation, or management of an area of the national park system."
Second, the total value of the land exchanged the combined value of both the land
added and the land deleted from the unit must be less than $750,000. Though no
formal determination has been made, a land exchange involving the Catherineberg Estate
property does not appear to meet either of these criteria. The exchange does not appear
necessary for the protection of the park, and it appears that the Estate land alone is likely
to be worth more than $750,000.
During the 109th Congress, Delegate Christensen introduced H.R. 272 to legislatively
authorize a land exchange. The Department of the Interior did not take a position on
The Secretary does not have any other authority to allow the construction of a school on
property owned and managed by the National Park Service. The 1998 National Parks
Omnibus Act does give the Secretary the authority to lease buildings and associated
property (16 U.S.C. la-k), as long as the lease does not "result in degradation of the
purposes and values of the unit". While public education is not in conflict with the
purpose of Virgin Islands National Park, the construction of a complex of buildings
appears to be in conflict with the direction given by the park's authorizing legislation,
which states, "The national park shall be administered and preserved by the Secretary of
the Interior in its natural state..." (70 Stat. 940).
The National Historic Preservation Act gives the Secretary the authority to lease historic
property, including historic buildings and historic lands, but only if the lease "will
adequately insure the preservation of the historic property" (16 U.S.C. 470h-3). New
construction of an education complex would not insure that the historic character of the
land in question is preserved.
Finally, the Land and Water Conservation Act authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to
convey to a freehold or leasehold interest in lands within the national park system, but
this authority does not apply to "property within national parks" (16 U.S.C. 4601-22(a)).
That concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or
other members of the subcommittee may have.