H.R. 1103- Resources Bills



STATEMENT OF VICTOR KNOX, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS AND PUBLIC LANDS, OF THE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H.R. 1103, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO develop, maintain, and administer an annex in Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as an extension of the American Memorial Park located in Saipan, and for other purposes.

May 17, 2012

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s testimony regarding H.R. 1103, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to develop, maintain, and administer an annex in Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, as an extension of the American Memorial Park located in Saipan, and for other purposes.

The Department supports the intent of H.R. 1103 and welcomes the opportunity to interpret the important resources associated with World War II at North Field on Tinian, Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI).  However, we cannot commit to providing a facility or curatorial storage of World War II artifacts on non-military leased lands on Tinian at this time.  We look forward to working with the sponsor and the committee regarding an appropriate role for the National Park Service (NPS) on Tinian.

H.R. 1103 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish an annex to American Memorial Park on the island of Tinian.  The American Memorial Park honors the American and CNMI Chamorros and Carolinians who gave their lives during the Marianas Campaign of World War II, and is a National Park System Affiliated Area.  Affiliated Areas receive technical or financial aid from the NPS but are not units of the National Park System.  Some of these, such as American Memorial Park, have been designated as Affiliated Areas by Congress; others have been designated by the Secretary of the Interior.  The exact location of the annex on Tinian would be determined by the National Park Service and the Governor of the Northern Mariana Islands in consultation with the Mayor of Tinian.  The annex would be used to interpret the important aspects of North Field by highlighting the historic events related to the World War II Marianas Campaign.  It would also be used as a curatorial storage space for World War II artifacts.

A Special Resource Study of the North Field Historic District, completed in 2001, affirmed the national significance of the site.  The study found that North Field represents one of the major historic events of the Pacific War – the strategic bombing of the Japanese homeland and the use of the atomic bomb in war.  These events led directly to the surrender of Japan and the end of World War II.  Presently, the use of the atomic bomb is not adequately represented in the national park system, and  North Field represents the most intact site related to these events.  The study area is listed on the National Register of Historic Places as an historic district and has been designated a national historic landmark.  The landmark encompasses approximately 2,500 acres. In late July 1944, two Marine divisions succeeded in what some considered the “perfect” amphibious operation, capturing the island of Tinian from the Japanese.  A vast airfield was developed by the Naval Construction Battalions, or Seabees.  North Field proved to be one of the largest, busiest, and most significant military installations of World War II.  It was the site from which the B-29 bombers Enola Gay and Bock’s Car lifted off on their fateful missions to Hiroshima and Nagasaki on August 6 and 9, 1945.  Beyond this world-changing event, North Field’s landscape is also layered in the remains of other periods of history, representing the 1930s Japanese sugar plantations and subsequent imperial military buildup, but also going as far back as the settlement of prehistoric Chamorro inhabitants.  The landscape is cloaked today in a layer of vegetation that obscures much of the extensive collection of archeological sites and intact features that represents its rich history.

North Field’s landscape is characterized by a series of runways, taxiways, and aprons on a level plateau on the northern tip of Tinian.  A gridded pattern of roads embeds North Field within the larger island landscape.  The airfield has both Japanese and American features, including the Japanese air apron and associated buildings that still bear scars from the 1944 invasion.  Other features—U.S.-built revetments, assembly facilities, loading pits, and Runway Able—tell the story of the atomic bomb.  Surrounding these features lie the overgrown remains of hardstands, taxiways, radar and defense towers, service areas, encampments, and other facilities.

The Department of Defense (DOD) holds a 50-year lease, ending in 2033, over CNMI lands comprising the study area.  This lease agreement gives DOD, through the commanders of the United States Pacific Fleet and Naval Forces Marianas, exclusive use, control, and possession of lands encompassing the North Field Historic District National Historic Landmark.  At the time of the study, the commander of the Pacific Fleet’s position regarding the military's future long-term needs for these lands precluded recommending designation of North Field as a unit of the National Park System.

The people of Tinian are supportive of both the military use of the leased land as part of the Mariana Islands Range Complex and the preservation of the resources within military-leased lands.  In addition, the people are concerned that those lands may not always remain open for visitors to access one of the most significant sites of the Pacific War and learn the story of how the small islands of the Marianas became the “tip of the spear” for America’s offensive against Japan.

Development of a Tinian Annex would provide the NPS an opportunity to interpret the historic events for which the North Field Historic District was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1982 and designated a National Historic Landmark by the Secretary of the Interior in 1985.  This could be done without conflicting with military needs, as it would be developed on lands outside the military leased area, and the NPS would consult with the DOD representative on Guam.

Until further details are developed about an annex in Tinian, such as curatorial facilities and site management, we are unable to provide a cost estimate. Funds for this site would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.  I would be pleased to answer questions that you or other members of the committee might have.