Investigations are currently being carried out to discover who destroyed a portion of the Gorda Peak National Park. Minister for Natural Resources Hon. Vincent Wheatley announced that a portion of the Park was cleared for an unknown person or persons to carry out what appears to be farming and construction of a dwelling.
The unfortunate announcement that someone destroyed some of the greenery of public property for private use was disclosed by Minister Wheatley in the House of Assembly on 10 July.
While decrying the occurrence, the Natural Resources Minister stated, “Gorda Peak was declared a National Park in 1974 … It is a well used Park for both our residents and our visitors and we must do everything in our power to ensure that this and all our parks are preserved. They are sites of natural and historical resources that we must treasure.”
Hon. Wheatley mentioned that the Park was closed until further notice effective from 8 July 2020, and pointed out that it was a large piece of the Park that was cleared by the unknown person or persons: “Based on recent field investigation by National Parks Trust staff it has been verified that there are seven acres off Gorda Peak that have been illegally cleared for farming along with the presence of construction supplies on the site and there is a foundation already established for a wooden building. This is being thoroughly investigated,” the Minister stated.
Hon. Wheatley further mentioned that such an act can be punished by a fine or imprisonment. “Mister Speaker under the National Parks Trust of the Virgin Islands Regulations 2008 section 14:1D no person shall in a Park destroy, damage, remove, manipulate, tamper or attempt to tamper with any natural or historical resource or physical structure inside a park. Further, under section 14 II a person who contravenes regulation 1 commits an offence and is liable on summary conviction to a fine not exceeding $10,000 or to be imprisoned for a term not exceeding one year or both.”
It was explained that the items that were found on the property have been confiscated. Hon. Wheatley said that it will be kept for up to two months: “As there are windows and other construction supplies on the premises, Mr. Speaker, I would like to inform the owners and the general public that Under Section 2 of the Regulations any vehicle or property which has been left or abandoned within a Park for more than 24 hours is to be impounded for 60 days or until it is claimed by its owner whichever is sooner.”
“Under the law, the Director of National Parks Trust may publish a notice announcing that the items were found and when and where the owner can retrieve it. Further, it was stated that the items may be disposed of if they are not claimed in 60 days,” the Minister added.
The Gorda Peak Park like other protected areas in the Territory is under the control of the National Parks Trust. In response to the occurrence which the Trust announced via press release on 14 July as “illegal”, the decision was taken to close the Park until further notice.