|Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne and USVI Governor John de Jongh. At a press conferences on the islands of St. Croix and St. John, Kempthorne awarded more than $2.5 million in grants to the USVI from Interior's Office of Insular Affairs.|
CHARLOTTE AMALIE, U.S. VIRGIN ISLANDS -- With the conclusion of an official two-day visit to the U.S. Virgin Islands, Secretary of the Interior Dirk Kempthorne today fulfilled his commitment to visit each of the U.S. territories and freely associated states for which he has significant responsibilities.
Following a private meeting with USVI Governor John de Jongh and Delegate to Congress Donna Christian Christiansen, Kempthorne announced an agreement with the two leaders to form a Working Group to identify steps necessary to complete a land swap between the Government of the Virgin Islands and the National Park Service to provide a usable site on the island of St. John for the construction of a high school. Currently, high school students on St. John must commute to school by boat each day. Kempthorne, de Jongh and Christiansen visited Estate Grange (Alexander Hamilton’s boyhood home) and Castle Nugent, both properties discussed as suitable for acquisition by the National Park Service as part of the proposed land swap. They also visited the 10-acre site within the park that has been proposed as the location for the new school.
“As Secretary of the Interior I feel a strong connection with the people of the Virgin Islands and other U.S. territories,” Kempthorne said. “I am committed to helping you improve your standard of living by addressing issues such as health care, infrastructure improvement, education and economic development. Together we can build a better future.”
At press conferences on the islands of St. Croix and St. John, Kempthorne awarded more than $2.5 million in grants to the USVI from Interior’s Office of Insular Affairs. The grants include:
- $981,000 for beginning construction of a potable water system at Coral Bay, a small population hub on the eastern end of St. John;
- $350,000 to support the design of the Salt River Bay Marine Research and Education Center, which will support research and education to address the rapidly declining health of coral reef ecosystems throughout the Caribbean and in other tropical areas of the world;
- $985,000 to help pay for construction of the $2 million University of the Virgin Islands Wellness Center, a state-of-the-art facility for dance, aerobics, weight training and general wellness for the university’s students, faculty, staff and alumni;
- $200,000 to assist the USVI in funding a survey that will provide demographic information on the territory’s uninsured population; and
- $100,000 to the USVI Department of Finance to help complete audits necessary for access to additional federal funds.
The Secretary also announced the appointment of Basil C. Ottley, Jr. as a new USVI desk officer at the Office of Insular Affairs for the Virgin Islands. Before his appointment, Ottley served as a member of the USVI Senate. Secretary Kempthorne was accompanied in all meetings by Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Insular Affairs Doug Domenech.
Kempthorne, who has made a priority of improving healthcare in the U.S. affiliated island communities, visited and met with medical professionals at Juan Luis Hospital on St. Croix and Roy Lester Schneider Hospital on St. Thomas.
Additionally, Kempthorne, who oversees the National Park Service, visited Virgin Islands National Park, Salt River Bay National Historical Park and Christiansted National Historical Site and viewed Buck Island Reef National Monument from the air. He also toured the Concordia Preserve and Maho Bay Camps, both eco-friendly and largely energy-self-sufficient camping facilities adjacent to Virgin Islands National Park. Kempthorne oversees millions of acres of federal recreation lands across the United States.
Joining the Secretary at the Univ. of the Virgin Islands (UVI) fitness center on St. Thomas were Dr. LaVerne Ragster, President of UVI and Peter Sauer, Athletic Director.
As the head of the Department of the Interior, the Secretary has significant oversight responsibility for the USVI and other U.S. territories and also for all national parks. Kempthorne is responsible for overall coordination of federal policy for the U.S. insular areas, advocating for the islands within the Federal Government, overseeing the distribution of appropriated funds for island territories, and administering U.S. financial assistance for the freely associated states.
In June 2007, Secretary Kempthorne visited the U.S. territories of the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands, Guam and American Samoa and the freely associated states of the Republic of Palau, the Federated States of Micronesia and the Republic of the Marshall Islands.