In a nutshell, the National Park Service here on St. John is not happy but in a way, their hands are tied.
News of St. John recently spoke with Bryon FitzGerald. He’s the Superintendent of the National Park Service (NPS) here on St. John. FitzGerald started this position in March of this year. That’s when one of his staff members notified him about what was going on over at Denis Bay.
“What we found out back in March was that a bunch of trees had been cut down on what I would call the upper curve,” FitzGerald said. “At that point in time, we didn’t know with any level of certainty if they were on our property or not. We then went to identify if they were on our property or not. We believe that it is on our property but we do not have any definitive proof yet.”
Because the exact National park boundaries are in question, FitzGerald said NPS is having the property surveyed. He said that the property owner, Tony Ingrao, is also entitled to have the property surveyed. FitzGerald said that the NPS is also planning to have an ecologist survey the area. Once NPS determines the exact boundaries and the extent of the damage, they plan to work with Ingrao to mitigate the damage.
News of St. John has reached out to Ingrao on several occasions. He has yet to respond to telephone and email messages left with his office. Ingrao did, however, tell FitzGerald that he planned to work with NPS to mitigate the damage.
“He has told me that he will do whatever we ask him to do to mitigate whatever damages he needs to do to fix the damage to park property,” FitzGerald said.
Once the surveys are completed, NPS will ask Ingrao to replant trees, add soil to stabilize the ground and the banks, and plant ground cover to prevent further erosion from damaging the parkland.
As of right now, FitzGerald said, “there is no question that the dirt is coming down into the park.”
So how exactly did the bulk of the damage occur?
Ingrao installed two gabion baskets, which are steel structures filled with several tons of rocks and soil. They’re typically used in road building and for erosion control. Well there was one week back in May that had two days of pretty heavy rain. During that second rainfall, one of the gabion baskets gave away. FitzGerald said the basket, which contained soil and large rocks, slid down and took out National Park trees. At that time, FitzGerald met with Ingrao’s on-site representatives.
“At that time, a chunk of road was undercut so there was a huge amount of dirt that was still in danger of falling into the park,” FitzGerald said. He then met with a director of the Department of Planning and Natural Resources. “Between the two of us, we said you’re done. We said you’re finished here unless you can get in here safely and remove this dirt safety from the overhang, so it doesn’t get into the park”
“At that point, they knew they needed a retaining wall. I said as long as the wall is on the road and not park property, I have no complaints. They needed to dig down to get stability to make road. I again said fine, but said when you are done, I need you to cover dirt so it doesn’t wash down into park. They dug down and they covered dirt with the cloth. That’s still there today. They did plant the upper curve area to stabilize the upper portion until they get pavement. They have stopped work.”
(News of St. John witnessed numerous workers at the job site earlier this week, however, all appeared to be working on the home only.)
Now there is the question of permits. FitzGerald said he has requested to see a copy of the permits but as of yet, he has not been able to obtain one. One main issue he has in terms of what happening is that the NPS is not the permitting authority. The Department of Public Works and the Department of Planning and Natural Resources are. The three organizations are currently working together, FitzGerald said.
“The Park Service is not the permitting authority and we are working with DPW and DPNR,” FitzGerald said. “Now going forward, what should happen is when a permit is issued on property that goes through National Park Service property, we would certainly like to be notified.”
Again, FitzGerald said NPS has stopped any further damage from occurring within the park and that the damage assessment will take some time to complete. What he does know is that the damage is extensive. He estimated it to be roughly three football fields wide and deep.
Click here to see images and a video of the damage.
Click here to read about the fines Ingrao received.