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Trump Administration Signs Agreement with U.S. Virgin Islands to Pursue a Land Exchange for New School

 St. John, USVI — The Trump Administration signed a preliminary
agreement today to pursue a land swap between the National Park
Service and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The agreement opens the door for
local 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,” said Assistant Secretary for
Fish and Wildlife and Parks Rob Wallace.  “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,” said Governor Albert Bryan, Jr. “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,” said Douglas W. Domenech, Assistant Secretary, Insular and
International Affairs. “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.” 

 Under the non-binding preliminary agreement, the U.S. Department of the
Interior (DOI) and Government of the Virgin Islands (GVI) will work
together over the next 12 months to fully evaluate the opportunity for a
land swap. The proposed exchange involves an 11-acre parcel within Virgin
Islands National Park and an 18-acre island currently owned by the
territorial government that is surrounded by NPS land and waters. There
will be multiple opportunities for the public to participate in the
process and share their thoughts while the NPS and GVI work together on
appraisals for the two parcels and complete environmental and historic
preservation compliance requirements. The NPS will keep the public
updated about public comment opportunities through the park’s website and
social media.  

 For nearly three decades, the USVI and the U.S. government have discussed
approaches to expanding education on St. John. Steps taken between
2012-2014 identified the 11-acre park parcel within
the Catherineberg Estate as a possible location to support the
island’s education needs. In November 2019, Governor Bryan offered the
small island of Whistling Cay for consideration in an
exchange, reenergizing negotiations.  

 Virgin Islands National Park was established in 1956 and encompasses
about 60 percent of the island of St. John. Land for the park was gifted
to the Federal government by Laurence S. Rockefeller for the purpose of
establishing a national park.