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Park Superintendent Working on Alternative School Plan


March 7, 2008 — While his plan isn't ready for prime time, V.I. National Park Superintendent Mark Hardgrove said Friday he's working on an alternative to Delegate Donna M. Christensen's bill to lease land in the park for a St. John school.
"Things are still coming together," he told the two dozen Rotary Club of St. John members and guests gathered for their weekly meeting the Westin Resort and Villas Beach Café.
It will take another couple of months before he can unveil the plan, Hardgrove said. The proposal requires a determination of things like the number of students who will attend the school.
The National Park Service opposes Christensen's lease proposal because it will set a precedent for other parks within the National Park system, Hardgrove said. If Christensen's bill makes it all the way through congressional channels, he said, it could set the stage for things like leasing land for cattle grazing in Yellowstone National Park.
Christensen's bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives, but it has yet to come up in the U.S. Senate.
Hardgrove wants to involve the community in keeping a watchful eye on what goes on in the park.
"We can never police the whole park," he said.
The territory has one of the "softest" borders in the country, which allows many illegal immigrants to enter the country, Hardgrove said. Park service vessels provide the only patrols.
"The only boat in the water is us," he said.
To help with this problem, Hardgrove is working with other government law enforcement agencies on a program to reestablish the Blue Lightning Task Force marine patrol. It will be based on park property in Red Hook, St. Thomas.
Plans are also in the works to streamline transportation within the park and, in particular, to the beaches.
"The taxi drivers have asked for a meeting," Hardgrove said.
Hardgrove also addressed several budget issues the park faces. It has a $7 million a year budget, with $4.2 million of that money going to fund salaries, contracts, utilities and other similar expenses. The funding shortage has forced the park to streamline its operations, Hardgrove said.
"We've refocused a lot of jobs and combined a lot of jobs," he said.
The park has a $22 million maintenance backlog, he said.
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