Parks, Trails and Heritage Sites Legislation: S 2951
STATEMENT OF DANIEL N. WENK,
DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES
ON S. 2951,
A BILL TO AUTHORIZE FUNDING TO PROTECT AND CONSERVE LANDS CONTIGUOUS
WITH THE BLUE RIDGE PARKWAY TO SERVE THE PUBLIC,
AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 17, 2010
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2951, a bill to authorize funding to protect and conserve lands contiguous with the Blue Ridge Parkway to serve the public, and for other purposes.
The Department appreciates the strong interest in protecting scenic vistas along the
We are sympathetic to the desire of supporters of the
Other units of the National Park System have also identified opportunities for land acquisition to protect resources from encroaching development.The Administration proposes to begin addressing these needs with a request in the FY 2011 budget of $106 million for National Park Service land acquisition—a significantly larger amount than has been requested or appropriated for many years.The FY 2011 request is the first step toward the Administration's goal of providing a total of $900 million a year – full funding – for federal land acquisition and other programs funded through the Land and Water Conservation Fund, and it holds the hope that within a few years we will be able to better address the needs at many more of our units, including the Blue Ridge Parkway.
As desirable as it would be to acquire more land at the
Section 4 of S. 2951 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire up to 50,000 acres of adjacent land that is identified in the parkway's Land Protection Plan or that meets the plan's amendment criteria.However, the authority to acquire lands contiguous to the parkway already exists; therefore this language is unnecessary.
Section 5(a) would authorize appropriations of $15 million for each of fiscal years 2011 through 2015 for the land acquisition authorized by this bill.As with section 4, this subsection is unnecessary because unlimited authority for appropriations for land acquisition at the parkway already exists.
Although subsection 5(a) may be viewed as sending a message that Congress desires that $15 million a year for five years be appropriated for the parkway, we note that such funding is not included in the Administration's FY 2011 budget request.Although we cannot predict what the Administration might request for specific land acquisition projects for the next four years, it would be unusual, even with higher overall levels of land acquisition funding, to request this much for one park.Any request for this park would be subject to the Administration's prioritization process that uses consistent and merit-based criteria to select projects.
Section 5(b) would authorize the Secretary to use funds appropriated for land acquisition at the
Subsection 5(b) as introduced lacks provisions regarding intended recipients and requirements for disposition of the land acquired through grants, so we are unclear about exactly what is intended. However, this proposed authority may be the seed of an idea for better utilizing the capabilities of nonprofit land conservation organizations in the protection of the
The second purpose of the grants would be to enter into cooperative agreements with nonprofit conservation organizations for technical expense assistance, such as appraisals and hazardous material surveys, for lands the organizations acquire for conveyance to the parkway.It is a common practice for conservation organizations to acquire land for potential addition to National Park Service units with the intent of holding the properties until the National Park Service is able to acquire them.However, in these cases, the expenses associated with acquiring these lands are borne by the organizations; they are not paid by the National Park Service unless arrangements are made in advance to coordinate the ordering of these services to avoid duplication of the expenses.We are concerned that paying for expenses associated with acquisition in advance of a conveyance would raise expectations about acquiring property that might not be met.In addition, setting this precedent for federal funding of non-federal administrative costs would treat land acquisition at the Blue Ridge Parkway differently than acquisition at every other unit of the National Park System, which would not be fair or appropriate.
Finally, Section 5(d) makes clear that the cooperative agreement arrangements with nonprofit organizations that are contemplated in this legislation could entail annual payments of as much as $250,000 a year to defray the organizations' "administrative expenses," which would not necessarily be limited to costs associated directly with land acquisition.This could open the door to the reimbursement of costs that are unrelated to the purposes of the Land and Water Conservation Act.Since the act prohibits federal employees from being paid for any expenses not related to federal land acquisition from funds appropriated for land acquisition, it would run counter to the spirit of the act to allow non-federal employees to be paid for expenses not related to federal land acquisition.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.