Ownership and Control of U.S. Virgin Islands Monument Lands
B-287626, Nov 15, 2002
GAO has been asked for its opinion concerning two Presidential proclamations issued on January 17, 2001, pursuant to the Antiquities Act, 16 U.S.C. 431 et seq. One proclamation enlarged the existing Buck Island Reef National Monument north of St. Croix, and the second proclamation created the Virgin Islands Coral Reef National Monument north and south of St. John. A number of questions have been raised relating to these monuments; we have been asked for our opinion about who owns the lands encompassed by the monument designations. Under the Antiquities Act, objects designated by the President as national monuments must be located upon lands either "owned or controlled" by the United States. As detailed in our opinion, we conclude that the United States both "owns" and "controls" the lands constituting the two monuments, as those terms are used under the Antiquities Act. The only possible exception is an 1,185-marine acre "finger" of submerged lands off the southeast coast of St. John, which the relevant proclamation suggests may be included in the Virgin Islands Coral Reef monument; we conclude that those lands are neither U.S.-owned nor -controlled.