S. 1247 - Parks Bills



STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK, DEPUTY DIRCTOR,  NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1247, TO AMEND THE ACQUISITION AUTHORITY FOR LAND FOR THE DEVELOPMENT OF VISITOR AND ADMINISTRATIVE FACILITIES AT WEIR FARM NATIONAL HISTORIC SITE IN THE STATE OF CONNECTICUT.

SEPTEMBER 11, 2007

Mr. Chairman and members of the committee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 1247, a bill to amend the Weir Farm National Historic Site Establishment Act of 1990, and for other purposes.

The Department supports S. 1247, but would like to work with the committee to simplify the language in the bill. 

S. 1247 would amend the Weir Farm National Historic Site Establishment Act of 1990 (as amended by Public Law 105-363) to expand the geographic area in which the park could acquire up to 15 acres to develop visitor and administrative facilities.  Public Law 105-363 required that the acquisition be "in close proximity or contiguous to the park."  Furthermore, by requiring a planning agreement with the towns of Ridgefield and Wilton, Connecticut before building a facility, Public Law 105-363 appears to authorize land acquisition only within these two towns.  S. 1247 would expand the National Park Service's authority so that it can consider the acquisition of property in all of Fairfield County, Connecticut, including a building in nearby Redding, Connecticut, that the park has leased for over 13 years for park curatorial and maintenance functions.  This expanded authority would reduce the cost of building support facilities and would address concerns that local towns have expressed about the location of administrative facilities in residential neighborhoods.

Weir Farm National Historic Site was established on October 31, 1990 to preserve the historic structures and landscapes associated with American Impressionist artist Julian Alden Weir.  The park's authorizing legislation identifies one of the park's purposes as "to maintain the integrity of a setting that inspired artistic expression."  In keeping with this purpose, the park's 1995 General Management Plan determined that all administrative and operational support functions should be located in off-site facilities.  In 1998, Public Law 105-363 authorized a boundary expansion of up to 15 acres, and in 2000, the National Park Service purchased nine acres in the town of Ridgefield, Connecticut under this authority.

Public Law 105-363 required the National Park Service to enter into agreement with the towns of Ridgefield and Wilton, Connecticut, prior to building a facility.  During discussions, concerns were raised about locating a 10,000 square foot facility in a residential neighborhood.  In addition, cost estimates for building a facility on the newly acquired property had increased from $3.4 million to $5.9 million. 

To address local concerns and rising costs, the National Park Service would like to consider alternative sites, including space at the Georgetown Wire Mill (Mill), a 55-acre brownfield development site listed on the National Register of Historic Places and located less than 2 miles from the park, in the town of Redding, Connecticut.  Currently, the park leases 5,000 square feet of curatorial and maintenance space at the Mill.  S. 1247 would allow the park to acquire 12,000 square feet of finished space at the Wire Mill in exchange for all or part of the nine acres acquired by the park in Ridgefield, Connecticut.  This acquisition would reduce construction, operating, and maintenance costs for the park.  Since the National Park Service would use all or part of the nine acres currently owned to exchange for the space at Georgetown Wire Mill, no acquisition funds are required.  If appraisals indicate that the Georgetown Land Corporation (Corporation) building exceeds the value of the National Park Service land, the Corporation has agreed to donate the difference to the National Park Service. 

Environmental sustainability would be another benefit of the Mill site.  Within the next two years, the Mill is expected to be certified as a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) village center with residential and commercial services and subsidies for artist housing. 

The language in S. 1247 that amends paragraph 2 of section 4(d) of Public Law 101-485 is complex.  Without changing the substance of the bill, the Department would like to work with the committee to make the language simpler and clearer.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my testimony.  I would be happy to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee might have.