Virgin Islands Public Outcry Over Buck Island Prompts National Park Service To Listen And Act
The U.S. Park Service plan to regulate Buck Island National Monument sparked an intense public backlash from the small St. Croix community. After a few tumultuous public meetings, the NPS appears ready to listen and incorporate the public concerns.
“It is not unusual for the park and the public to come up with a Version E,” said Zandy Hillis-Starr, NPS Chief of Resource Management, during a meeting with the Save Buck Island/Our Buck Island committees.
The park service published in February four proposed alternatives. Only one maintained the status quo for management of Buck Island while the others imposed a variety of restrictions. A public backlash against the proposed restrictions was swift and fierce.
“We are very encouraged to know that the park service is listening and seems ready to work with the public to reach an outcome that does not shut the public out of the most beautiful areas of the park.” said Perry Sheraw, the founder of http://www.facebook.com/
“But we cannot back down until a final plan is in place,” said Chris Ferreras, the founder of the Save Buck Island Committee. “The public needs to stay involved and aware.”
During the meeting Tuesday, April 10, at NPS headquarters, Superintendent Joel A. Tutein pledged to resolve the maintenance concerns expressed by the public. Many public speakers at the standing room only March 28 public meeting begrudged any plan granting additional control to the park service, citing years of lackluster facilities maintenance by the department.
“Those bathrooms will be clean,” Tutein promised during the meeting with the Save Buck Island/OurBuckIsland, adding that the NPS has secured new tables and renovated the shelter at the park. Tutein said the park service has had difficulty recruiting for key positions since the economic recession hit.
The NPS has hired a maintenance supervisor specifically to tend to Buck Island, George Canavan. Hillis-Starr said the St. Croix NPS division is challenged for resources because it manages 3 parks with only 18 employees.
In addition to the restrooms, tables and shelter, Tutein said Hillis-Starr and her team were assessing the buoys on the snorkel trail to ensure in disrepair are put back into working order.
“If someone sees a problem out there, please call us and we will deal with it,” David J. Goldstein, Chief Interpreter and Education officer. He offered the main office phone: 340-773-1460 ext. 222 and his cell phone: 340-226-4612. “We will respond.”
Goldstein began the meeting asking for a list of the maintenance concerns so they can be addressed.
Tutein asked that the public assist the park service by honoring a pack-in/pack-
The meeting covered a variety of other topics, including public-private partnership options that would team the public with the park service to help them manage park issues, such as the lionfish invasion and projects the park service may not have the funds to complete.
More than $300,000 per year is spent on Buck Island maintenance, Tutein said. When asked where the money goes, Hillis-Starr offered to share the calendar of projects for her team.
Tutein also said the new pier that was destroyed in a tropical storm is slated to be reconstructed this month. He said the concrete in the last build was faulty and that is what caused the collapse.
The proposed General Management Plan obviously was a major concern for the Save Buck Island/Our Buck Island representatives. The park service requested small working groups continue to work together to establish a modified plan. The next meeting is scheduled for Tuesday, April 24. Additional working sessions are scheduled between Hillis-Starr and public representatives to review a modified Marine Hazard Zone map that would protect federally-listed endangered species of coral – Elkhorn and Staghorn - while still allowing public access.
Possible solutions include a training process for members of the public who wish to venture into the areas near Endangered Species. Regardless of the outcome, Tutein and Goldstein pledged better communication with the public going forward.
In response to concerns from boaters who were boarded by NPS boats during Easter weekend, Tutein said Buck Island is a concurrent jurisdiction with enforcement by NPS, USVI Department of Planning & Natural Resources (DPNR). One boater reported receiving a $500 fine from someone off a park service boat.
Tutein said that was a ticket from the DPNR. DPNR often rides along on the NPS boats. He said NPS officers are instructed to follow a progressive enforcement process: 1. Verbal Warning; 2. Written Warning; 3. Mandatory Appearance before the Federal Magistrate.
The NPS assured the Save Buck Island/Our Buck Island committees that they would release a list of rules and regulations they currently enforce so boaters and visitors to the park understand what is and isn’t permissible right now. The Save Buck Island/Our Buck Island committees plan to request the same from DPNR.
“Boaters have a right to know what they can and cannot be cited for in U.S. Virgin Islands waters,” said Perry Sheraw. “And it is the responsibility of the enforcement agencies to educate the public of these rules.”
Sheraw added that the Save Buck Island/Our Buck Island members stand ready and willing to help get the word out and to support the NPS stewardship efforts on Buck Island as long as the NPS does not overly restrict the public’s use of Buck Island.
Cindy Clearwater, Managing Editor of MyStCroix.com stressed the need for signage and discussed with Goldstein hopes to make Buck Island a Blue Flag Beach someday. Read more on this effort at http://my-stcroix.com/
The Save Buck Island/Our Buck Island movement mobilized the public to attend public NPS meetings about the plans. More than 200 people attended the first meeting and nearly 40 people spoke out against the government’s chosen plan: Alternative B. Alternative B would eliminate anchoring in the park and shut down 5,000 acres to everything but swimming – even snorkeling would be disallowed.
Petitions circulated by the groups garnered more than 1,000 signatures in just a few weeks. The www.facebook.com/
The Save Buck Island/OurBuckIsland committees encourage people to join and follow updates on the www.facebook.com/
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