April 1, 2002 – The V.I. National Park has written a set of regulations governing use of St. John's Hurricane Hole during major storms. But if the V.I. government's challenge to the federal designation of the area as part of the Coral Reef National Monument isn't resolved before the next big storm hits, the park won't implement the regulations.
Hurricane season begins in two months, on June 1.
Following a community meeting Monday at the Marketplace shopping complex to discuss the park's proposed Vessel Management Plan, Park Superintendent John King said he does not know when the matter will be resolved.
President Bill Clinton in the closing days of his office designated Hurricane Hole and waters off the south shore covering 12,700 acres as a national monument. The V.I. government contends that the submerged land belongs to the territory because President Gerald Ford in 1974 transferred it to the Virgin Islands. King said the federal General Accounting Office is reviewing the matter.
"But we've been told that GAO opinions are just that — opinions," King said. He said the Interior Department, which has jurisdiction over national parks and national monuments, could concur with the GAO's opinion or ignore it.
King said if the matter is resolved in favor of the federal government, the park will enforce the new regulations. They allow boats to preregister for a space in Hurricane Hole. The park will charge a fee for this service, but King did not know what it will be, other than that "it depends on the size of the boat."
He said boaters may put down ground tackle after they register, but must remove it when hurricane season ends on Nov. 30.
When a major storm is five days away from possibly hitting the territory, boaters will be allowed to enter Hurricane Hole. They must leave within two days of the storm's passage.
King said that eventually, if the federal government prevails in the monument designation dispute, the Friends of the V.I. National Park organization expects to install a hurricane mooring system. This system of moored chains allows boaters to hook their anchors to the chains to prevent damage to the marine and land environments surrounding Hurricane Hole's bays.
The Friends group has raised $60,000 of the $140,000 needed for the mooring system, King said. He said the Friends may install the system in just one of Hurricane Hole's four bays if it is economically feasible to do so. If not, the group will wait until it has enough money to do all four bays.
Vessel Management Plan not ready for review
While King had expected to have the Vessel Management Plan ready for public review Monday, it has been held up in the park's regional office. He said he expects it to be made public within the next few days.
The major change for local recreational boaters comes in the extension to 30 days of the 14-day limit on stays within park waters. However, boats may use moorings or drop anchor only 14 consecutive days in any one bay.
When the mooring fee program begins later this spring or in the summer, boaters will have to pay $15 a night to use the moorings. They may anchor seaward of the moorings only if no moorings are available. There will be no charge for anchoring.
While boats 12 feet and under are now allowed to anchor on the south shore, the proposed vessel management plan will prohibit their doing so.
"Small boats do a lot of damage to sea grass," said Jim Owens, the park's former acting planner and author of the vessel management plan. He said the only exception to the prohibition will be during blue runner season. Larger vessels already are prohibited from anchoring on the south shore and must use moorings.
About half a dozen people showed up for Monday's meeting. King said many of the proposals in the Vessel Management Plan were aired during the discussion of the recently-adopted Commercial Services Plan and many people had already had their say.
A similar meeting on the Vessel Management Plan will be held at 8a.m. Wednesday in the Marketplace third-floor meeting room.
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