Christensen sorry to see Salazar go at Interior Department


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ST. THOMAS ­- Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen expressed surprise and regret at Interior Secretary Ken Salazar's announcement Wednesday that he is retiring, because she said he has benefitted the territory during his tenure.

Salazar, who served as senator from Colorado from 2005 to 2009, after being the state's attorney general, announced he will return to Colorado to spend more time with his family.

Under his direction, the Department of the Interior's Office of Insular Affairs has funneled "a lot of money" to the Virgin Islands to improve infrastructure, Christensen said.

"I'm sorry to see him go," she said. "It has been a very fruitful administration under Salazar for the Virgin Islands and the other territories as well."

Christensen also said she is worried that Congress, under pressure to fix the nation's fiscal crisis, will restrict funds to the Department of the Interior.

"You never know what you have until someone leaves," she said. "We have all these budgetary issues and now to have these compounded with a new person coming in. I don't know if that person will be as supportive of the territories or know as much about the territories." Some of the Interior Department grants the USVI received this year under Salazar include:

- A $1.8 million grant to Luis Hospital to improve the hospital's information technology systems.

- A $1.6 million grant to Salt River Park on St. Croix to develop a Coastal Studies Outpost, which will facilitate marine education and research and promote the protection of St. Croix's fisheries, shorelines and reefs

- A $475,339 grant to the V.I. Water And Power Authority to install potable water distribution pipelines, service connection and fire hydrants in the residential area between old Tutu North and Route 4 on St. Thomas.

In a press release issued Thursday, Gov. John deJongh Jr. said he would be "forever grateful" for Salazar's "support and the technical assistance that has been provided the Virgin Islands."

DeJongh specifically mentioned Salazar's assembling of a federal inter-agency task force following the HOVENSA oil refinery shut-down in February. The task force met with officials from his administration and with Christensen.

- Contact reporter Amanda Norris at 714-9104 or email anorris@dailynews.vi.

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