May 24, 2005 Only a week has passed since the U.S. Department of Interior transferred 200 acres on Water Island to the V.I. Government, but one senator has already put his long-awaited plans for the island into action.
According to a release from Government House, Gov. Charles W. Turnbull on Monday executed the quitclaim deed that transferred the remainder of the 200 acres owned by the Department of Interior to the territory's government, making the island officially a part of the U.S. Virgin Islands. In an initial transfer in 1996, 50 acres were turned over to the V.I. government.
Sen. Celestino A. White Sr. said Tuesday he was happy to see the final transfer take place.
"Water Island has been an initiative that I have been on for the last two years," White said. He had written several letter to Turnbull and others advocating the land transfer and had felt at times that no one was listening. But Turnbull was, White said.
In a letter to Turnbull on Tuesday, White congratulated the governor and his spokesman James O'Bryan for the accomplishment of the land transfer. O'Bryan, who also serves as St. Thomas-Water Island administrator, had been given the task to work on the land transfer.
"I am certain that the Virgin Islands public is appreciative of your leadership in this matter," White wrote.
The senator encouraged the governor to hold a ceremony on Water Island to mark the transfer. He noted that a similar ceremony was conducted on Water Island under the Roy L. Schneider administration when only 50 acres were transferred, so the 200 acres was cause for a ceremony.
"I know that there was a lot of opposition by people who reside on Water Island for the transfer of the remaining 200 acres," White said. "The impression was that Water Island belonged to a select few, who were given the permission to purchase the land by the Department of Interior."
Now that the land has been transferred to the V.I. Government, White said he has plans for it. The chairman of the Senate Housing, Parks and Recreation Committee said he has two pieces of legislation concerning Water Island ready to go to the committees for review.
One bill seeks to use part of the recently obtained land for affordable housing, White said. The other bill seeks to create regularly scheduled ferry service to Water Island, similar to that of St. John.
"If we don't make access available to that island, the impression will remain that Water Island is for a select few," White said.
He saw an ad for a home on Water Island for $275,000, he said, adding that he is certain the person did not purchase the land for that much from the Department of Interior.
This was one of the things that led him to sponsor the legislation for affordable housing on Water Island, White said, "so the government can make land affordable for its people."
The senator said he is waiting for Senate President Lorraine L. Berry to schedule his committee meeting on the affordable housing bill. The other bill will first be reviewed in the Government Operations and Consumer Protection Committee.
"I still do not consider Water Island as the fourth Virgin Islands, since it is a part of the St. Thomas-St. John District, but it should be open to all Virgin Islanders," White said.
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