May 25, 2001 – A St. John owner of property within V.I. National Park boundaries told a group of St. Thomas-St. John senators Thursday that they should step into the ongoing clashes between landowners and the National Park Service over access rights.
"We need you, senators, to determine who owns the land and who can block access — the local government, the National Park Service or rightful propertry owners," Wilma Marsh Monsanto told the six lawmakers and an overflow crowd at a public meeting held Thursday evening in Cruz Bay to discuss the matter.
Senate President Almando "Rocky" Liburd, a St. John resident and the at-large representative in the Legislature, called the meeting in the legislatuve conference room to allows constituent to air concerns with regard to lands within the park boundaries.
"I've been dealing with this issue for 12 years under three different superintendents, and the national park remains contentious," Monsanto said, one of 10 persons who raised questions and leveled charges during the meeting.
V.I. National Park Supt. John King testified that, having only recently assumed the superintendency of the park, he was ignorant of a lot of the land issues raised. "After only six months in the position, I'm still in the learning stage," he said. "Basically, I have no position to take on the matter. I came here to listen."
The private property access issue, brewing for two decades, came to a head last month when park authorities acceded to demands that they reopen a gate erected along a roadway in Estate L'Esperance. The Monsanto family and other property owners in the area, called "in-holders," charged that the gate blocked access to their land.
King wrote to Monsanto in April stating that the gate had been installed to prevent late-night parties, trespassing and the cultivation of marajuana plants on park property.
At the start of the meeting, Liburd distributed copies of a 1962 V.I. law, Act No. 807, that requires the park to improve and maintain six heavily traveled roadways within its boundaries. The park extends over about 9,000 acres of land, of which 2,000 acres are privately owned.
Many of those testifying said instead of maintaining roads, the National Park Service is closing them.
"Roads that I once walked as a young boy along the North Shore were closed by the national park and some are now called trails," Alexander Dalmida, a 66-year-old retired police sergeant, testified. "What is now the Cinnamon Bay Trail that connects Centerline Road with the North Shore Road was once a road that was used in emergencies.
Dalmida said these and other roads should be reopened for emergency use.
Moriah Jacobs, making references to "Big Brother," said that the NPS repaved a road in front of her family's property in Estate Bordeaux without notifying the affected residents and caused damage to fencing and trees.
Cedric Lewis told the senators that a number of official St. John zoning maps have been lost or destroyed and, as a result, the local government is losing thousands of dollars in yearly property taxes. "In 1965, when the Department of Public Works moved from 75 Corner to Sub Base, a full box of St. John zoning maps were destroyed," he said, adding that there is "a list of lost property that validates what I'm saying."
Steven Black said once access to roads is determined, the mostly dirt roads should be converted into walking, jogging or bicycle trails. "Every national park in the country has such trails, except for St. John," Black, a St. John resident, said. In Puerto Rico, he said, $3.8 million in National Park Service funds "went to establishing walking, jogging or bicycle trails."
During the course of the meeting, Attorney General Iver Stridiron joined in through a telephone conference hook-up from St. Thomas. Stridiron said he is awaiting a legal decision from his staff, after which his office will work with Public Works and the National Park Service to "ensure an orderly access to public roads."
Stridiron said it's his understanding that National Park Service officials do not want to deny property owners rightful access. "I believe they want to be good [public] citizens," he said.
Public Works Commissioner Wayne Callwood and his St. John deputy, Ira Wade, said part of the problem is that many St. John property owners live off island, making it difficult, if not impossible, to resolve property conflicts when they arise. Otherwise, Callwood said, he, like King, was at the meeting to listen to residents' concerns.
Senators present in addition to Liburd were Lorraine Berry, Roosevelt David, Carlton Dowe, Donald "Ducks" Cole and Norma Pickard-Samuel. They concurred that the matter of owner access to private property within the park needs to be resolved, and as amicably as possible.


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