Over the weekend, the Virgin Islands National Park released the following statement from Superintendent, Steve Black, addressing the boat removal status in National Park waters.
We, like many island residents, are anxious to see the sunken and damaged vessels removed from Hurricane Hole and other areas of the park. We are charged as an agency, and as a park, to protect the resources of St John that are under our jurisdiction. The vessels strewn about the park and specifically in Hurricane Hole are persistent daily reminders, to you and us, that we are not doing that.
We have been asked many questions since the storm about why boats are still here and the answer is quite simple: The Stafford Act. This law, signed in 1988 by President Reagan, allows FEMA to provide funding and assistance to address hurricane damages. However, the act prohibits FEMA from providing funding or assistance to Federal agencies when those agencies have a legal responsibility and management oversight to address the damages. That is why the U.S. Coast Guard and their contractor, Resolve, could not remove boats from park waters or off park lands. The National Park Service needed special funding from Congress to pay some entity to remove the boats. While Congress did pass a bill and sent it to the President to sign, which he did in February, the money did not start flowing until June 14 to the NPS and the parks affected by Hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria.
The park began discussions with the U.S. Navy this past winter and all parties agreed that the Navy could assist the park, but they needed a letter requesting help, an agreement to transfer the funding, and a check to get started. None of these have been quick in coming. While the needed agreement and documentation were done quickly, they still must be reviewed at many levels including the solicitors and Department of the Interior officials. While everyone agrees this is an important and necessary thing to do and do quickly, on-the-ground work cannot start until we receive a signed letter, the agreement is approved, and money is in hand.
I am pleased to say that the check was cut last night and the letter has been sent to the Navy. The agreement has yet to be signed, but soon the Navy and their contractor will set sail from the States to St John. It will take a while for them to get here with all their resources, but once they are close, we will be posting regular updates on our Facebook page and communicating with affected boat owners.
We appreciate your patience and understand your frustration. We are right there with you on that!
Virgin Islands National Park and
Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument