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Justice News

Department of Justice
U.S. Attorney’s Office
District of Virgin Islands

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Friday, November 14, 2014

U.S. Attorney’s Office Files Suit To Remove Unauthorized Individuals, Structures And Vehicles From Federal Park Land On St. John

St. Thomas, USVI – United States Attorney Ronald W. Sharpe announced today that the United States has filed suit in United States District Court seeking the removal of several individuals from a parcel of property in the Virgin Islands National Park. The United States’ complaint alleges that 16 individuals are unlawfully occupying and living on National Park land, have illegally erected ten structures on the property and have placed 11 vehicles, abandoned appliances, trash, and livestock on the property. The civil complaint further alleges that those individuals have installed unauthorized electrical and water lines to the property and made illegal alterations to a public road. According to the complaint, since the individuals began the unlawful occupation, there have been documented incidents of them harassing park visitors, hikers, and even adjacent landowners using the public road.

As set forth in the complaint, the land was donated to the United States in 1956 for the creation of the Virgin Islands National Park on St. John. The land was donated on the condition that it be used solely for the creation of the National Park. The National Park Service (NPS) is responsible for managing National Parks, including the Virgin Islands National Park. Under federal law, individuals are prohibited from living on or erecting structures on National Park land without authorization from the NPS.

NPS discovered the illegal occupation in 2010. Since that time, NPS engaged in discussions and meetings with the individuals regarding ownership of the property. NPS presented the individuals with substantial evidence demonstrating the United States’ ownership of the property, including its recorded deed, surveys, and reports by licensed surveyors. At the same time, NPS gave the individuals every opportunity to substantiate their claim to ownership. However, the individuals have not produced any evidence to the NPS showing they have a legally cognizable ownership interest in the property. NPS therefore requested that the individuals voluntarily leave, but the individuals have refused.

“The NPS is statutorily obligated the protect Virgin Islands National Park land to ensure that it is open to the public,” U.S. Attorney Sharpe said. “Individuals who take National Park land for themselves destroy the spirit of the Park and prevent the public from enjoying the Park’s natural beauty. This office and the NPS will defend the integrity of the Park, including by removing unauthorized persons, vehicles, and buildings when necessary.”

Assistant U.S. Attorney Noah Sacks is representing the National Park Service in this case.

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Updated June 22, 2015