S. 114 - National Parks Bills



STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 114, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO ENTER INTO A COOPERATIVE AGREEMENT FOR A PARK HEADQUARTERS AT SAN ANTONIO MISSIONS NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK, TO EXPAND THE BOUNDARY OF THE PARK, TO CONDUCT A STUDY OF POTENTIAL LAND ACQUISITIONS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

MAY 11, 2011

Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittees, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 114, to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a cooperative agreement for a park headquarters at San Antonio Missions National Historical Park, to expand the boundary of the park, to conduct a study of potential land acquisitions, and for other purposes.

The Department supports S. 114.On September 29, 2010, the Department testified in support of S. 3524, an identical bill, before this subcommittee, during the last Congress.

S. 114 would amend Section 201 of Public Law 95-629 to direct the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to conduct a study of lands in Bexar and Wilson Counties to identify lands that would be appropriate to include within the boundaries of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Park).The Secretary is directed to report on the findings of the study three years after funds are made available.S. 114 also authorizes the Secretary to enter into a cooperative agreement with the City of San Antonio, or its designee, for operation of a facility outside the boundary of the park to provide visitor facilities and office space for a headquarters and operational support for the park. Funding for the cooperative agreement would be subject to appropriations.Finally, the boundary of the park would be expanded by approximately 151 acres.

San Antonio Missions National Historical Park preserves a significant link to Mexico and Spain that has influenced the culture and history of the United States since before its inception. San Antonio is now the seventh largest and third fastest growing city in the United States. The city grew 68 percent between 1980 and 2007 and now almost entirely surrounds the Park with urban development, threatening areas that contain significant Spanish colonial resources historically associated with the Park.

Park headquarters for San Antonio Missions are currently inadequate; they do not meet fire, safety or security standards; and are in an expired lease space not adjacent to the Park. The Park's maintenance operations are dispersed in three separate locations. The Park's curatorial collection, which contains almost one million Spanish Colonial period objects, is stored in four different locations, including two locations that do not meet National Park Service (NPS) Curatorial Storage Standards.

The City of San Antonio, Texas (City) has acquired lands adjacent to Mission San José and has proposed a partnership with the Park and one of its partners for the construction of a park headquarters. A cooperative agreement, such as the one described in S. 114, would provide the NPS with the ability to enter into an agreement with the City or an entity of the City's choosing such as Los Compadres de San Antonio Missions National Historical Park (Los Compadres), to assist with operation of visitor facilities and office space for a park headquarters.

S. 114 would also expand the boundary of San Antonio Missions National Historical Park by approximately 151 acres, of which 118 acres are either currently owned by the NPS, are being donated, or are being transferred through a land exchange to the Park. All costs associated with the land exchange will be paid for by the San Antonio River Authority with the NPS only paying for minimal transaction costs. Thirty-three acres would either be purchased by the NPS from willing sellers or donated to the Park. It is estimated that the acquisition of these 33 acres could cost as much as $3,587,110 and operational costs associated with adding the 151 acres of land are not expected to exceed $100,000 per year. Associated land acquisition funding requests would be subject to the Administration's prioritization process that uses consistent and merit-based criteria to select projects, and the availability of appropriations.

The Park's General Management Plan and Land Protection Plan acknowledge that the current boundary is insufficient to fully achieve the Park's purpose. The Park's most recent feasibility study recommended a much larger area to best protect the cultural resources associated with the Park. Numerous areas that contain significant Spanish colonial resources historically associated with the Park still remain outside the boundary. In addition, the Park has acquired lands that are outside the current boundary and is in the process of accepting additional lands that will be included within the boundary as a part of a land exchange with the San Antonio River Authority and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to facilitate restoration of the San Antonio River.

S. 114 would also authorize the Secretary to conduct a study of lands within Bexar and Wilson counties, in the State of Texas, to identify lands that would be suitable for inclusion within the boundaries of the Park. The study should also explore management alternatives that would best ensure public access, preservation, protection, and interpretation of the Missions.We estimate that this study will cost approximately $350,000.

This legislation enjoys the strong support of officials from Bexar County, Wilson County, the City of San Antonio, the City of Floresville, the San Antonio River Authority, the San Antonio Conservation Society, Los Compadres, and others.It would help guarantee the preservation, protection, restoration, and interpretation of the missions for current and future generations.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you or any other members of the Subcommittees may have.