Land and National Historic Site Bills: H.R. 3809



STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON,

ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,

DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,

BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON  NATURAL RESOURCES,

SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS

CONCERNING H.R. 3809, TO AMEND THE DELAWARE AND LEHIGH NATIONAL HERITAGE

CORRIDOR ACT OF 1988 REGARDING THE LOCAL COORDINATING ENTITY

OF THE DELAWARE AND LEHIGH NATIONAL HERITAGE CORRIDOR,

AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

JUNE 5, 2008

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on H.R. 3809, a bill to amend the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Act of 1988 regarding the local coordinating entity of the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, and for other purposes.

The Department supports the provisions in the bill that name a new local coordinating entity for the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor (Corridor) and provide additional authorities to the Secretary of the Interior.  However, the Department recommends deferring action on the provision authorizing federal funding for the area for five additional years for the reasons discussed below.

Facing the possible expiration of the Corridor's federal commission and federal funding, the National Park Service (NPS), in conjunction with the Corridor, began a sustainability study in 2005 to document the heritage area's accomplishments over the past 17 years, evaluate how the Corridor partnership has worked, and explore options for the future.  This evaluation, Connecting Stories, Landscapes, and People: Exploring the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Partnership, was finalized in 2006.  The NPS has not completed a report based on this evaluation, which includes recommendations on what the future role of the NPS should be in the area.

In March 2007, the Department testified on S. 817, a bill to amend the Omnibus Parks and Public Lands Act of 1996 to provide additional authorizations for certain National Heritage Areas. Section 4 of that bill contained many of the same provisions contained in H.R. 3809 that relate to the Corridor.  In our testimony, and follow-up letter, the Department stated that we had no objection to the transition to a new local coordinating entity or increased authorities for the Secretary. However, we recommended deferring action on the provision authorizing federal funding for the area for an additional five years.

Based on pilot sustainability studies done at three national heritage areas, including the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, the NPS is in the process of developing a standard methodology for evaluating all national heritage areas that are nearing the end of their authorization for federal funding.  Having this standard model is critical given the language contained in the recently enacted Public Law 110-229 that requires the Secretary to conduct an evaluation of the accomplishments, investments, management structure, and partner relationships for nine national heritage areas designated in 1996.  In addition to developing the evaluation methodology, the NPS is also developing a format that will be used for the reports to Congress based on the evaluations.  Once the evaluation methodology and report format is finalized, the Department will submit a report with recommendations on the reauthorization for federal funding to this area.

The Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, located in the eastern part of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania between Wilkes-Barre and Bristol, was established in 1988 as the country's third national heritage area.  The Corridor, which travels along 165 miles of rivers, canals, and railroads, conserves the historic transportation network that brought anthracite coal from the mines to the market in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. 

The authorizing legislation for the heritage area also established the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Commission (Commission) to assist state and local authorities in preserving and interpreting the Corridor's historic and cultural resources.  The Commission, which expired on November 18, 2007, was also responsible for the development and implementation of the Corridor's Management Action Plan (management plan).  Since the end of 2007, the Delaware and Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Inc., a non-profit corporation created in 2003, has assumed responsibility for carrying out the Commission's work in order to complete remaining priorities in the Corridor's management plan.  This bill would provide for the official transition of the local coordinating entity for the Corridor from a federal commission to a non-profit corporation.

The Corridor has a commendable track record of partnership and project accomplishments and has shown signs of becoming self-sufficient.  Over 98% of the 165-mile D&L Trail that forms the spine of the corridor is complete or underway.  The innovative Corridor Market Towns program has been replicated as the Landmark Towns of Bucks County, in partnership with the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.  The Two Rivers Landing project has attracted millions of dollars in new development and tourism to the Easton region, while the Lehigh Gap Wildlife Refuge reclamation project has won a Cooperative Conservation award from the Department of the Interior.  In 2003, in recognition of the increased flexibility and funding opportunities of a corporation over a commission, the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor, Incorporated was formed to eventually succeed the Commission that had coordinated the Corridor's activities since 1988. 

In 2005, the Commission asked the NPS Conservation Study Institute to conduct an evaluation of the Corridor's accomplishments, progress, impacts, leverage, and management structure, and to provide options to plan for its future direction.  The evaluation, Connecting Stories, Landscapes, and People: Exploring the Delaware & Lehigh National Heritage Corridor Partnership, found that the Corridor has addressed 83% of its planned actions.  It also found that 46% of those are "ongoing," such as implementing the corridor-wide interpretive plan, and therefore require long-term coordination.  Investments have been made at all levels of public and private sectors, with NPS funding leveraging on average 12 times as much in non-NPS funding.  

The evaluation concludes that many Corridor participants feel that a broader, stronger affiliation with the NPS is needed to sustain the Corridor's successes, and that this partnership is justified by the Corridor's national significance.  Options include seeking stronger, more consistent relationships with the regional office and nearby park units; building a stronger connection with the NPS brand; and acquiring NPS interpretive expertise.

In addition to transitioning to a new local coordinating entity, H.R. 3809 also authorizes appropriations of up to $1 million through 2012 to implement the management plan.  We believe it is premature for the Administration to support additional federal funding to assist with these activities until the NPS has an opportunity to formally submit to Congress a report that contains recommendations on the NPS' future role with respect to the Corridor, and the reauthorization of federal funding based on the recent evaluation. 

If the committee chooses to move forward with this bill, the Department would welcome the opportunity to work with the committee on making some technical corrections to the bill.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my testimony and I am prepared to answer any questions that you or other members of the committee might have at this time.