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U.S. Department of the Interior - Office of Congressional and Legislative Affairs
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S. 127 - 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 AND THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON PUBLIC LANDS AND FORESTS OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE, CONCERNING S. 127, TO ESTABLISH THE BUFFALO BAYOU NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA IN THE STATE OF TEXAS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

MAY 11, 2011 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 127, a bill to establish the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area in Texas, and for other purposes.

The Department recognizes the appropriateness of designating the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area, but recommends deferring action on S. 127 until program legislation is enacted that establishes criteria to evaluate potentially qualified national heritage areas and a process for the designation and administration of these areas.We recommend that Congress enact national heritage area program legislation in this Congress. The Department previously testified before this subcommittee with the same position on S. 3261, an identical bill, on September 29, 2010, during the last Congress.

There are currently 49 designated national heritage areas, yet there is no authority in law that guides the designation and administration of these areas. Program legislation would provide a much-needed framework for evaluating proposed national heritage areas, offering guidelines for successful planning and management, clarifying the roles and responsibilities of all parties, and standardizing timeframes and funding for designated areas.Program legislation was introduced in the 109th and 110th Congresses, and we look forward to continuing to work with Congress on this very important issue.

S. 127 would establish the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area (NHA) in Harris County, Texas, with the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area Corporation designated as the National Heritage Area's Management Entity.The National Park Service (NPS) completed a suitability and feasibility study on the proposed Buffalo Bayou NHA in April 2010 that determined that the NHA met the NPS criteria for establishment.

When brothers Augustus Chapman Allen and John Kirby Allen established the city of Houston in 1836, they envisioned a great new city, but could not have imagined Houston's role in fueling the rise of the United States as a world power in the 20th century. The Houston town site was located along the Buffalo Bayou, which was the only semi-navigable waterway running east and west in Texas. The bayou eventually became a major economic access point into the Southwest and a corridor to the Gulf of Mexico and beyond.

Houston's oil industry helped draw and meld cultures that helped define its regional character and the economic growth of the Buffalo Bayou as a center for oil and petrochemical production shaped the community's character.

Adjacent to the Buffalo Bayou ship channel is the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site, where Texas gained its independence as a republic. A National Historic Landmark and State Park, the San Jacinto Battleground provides the cultural and natural landscape for the second major theme of the proposed National Heritage Area:Texas independence. The historic site also includes the USS Texas battleship, also designated as a National Historic Landmark, which was built in the "dreadnought" era and launched in 1912. After serving in World War I, the ship was updated for service in World War II, and participated in the amphibious invasions of Normandy, Iwo Jima, and Okinawa.

Historian Lynn M. Alperin has stated that "Buffalo Bayou has been transformed from a meandering stream into a vast industrial complex." That transformation has not been without environmental consequences. However, as with most cities throughout the United States in the second half of the 20th century, Houston has worked to balance economic development with environmental protection.Parts of the story of the proposed Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area are environmental and recreational initiatives, supported by its industries, including wetlands restoration, trails development, prairie restoration, riverfront park development, and natural preserves.These efforts are part of the story of the community's efforts to improve the quality of life for Houston's two million people.

A potential Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area, through its historical, natural, cultural, and recreational resources, its network of partner organizations, its diverse population, and consistent with the area's economy, would represent a distinctively American story about the nation's growth. The nationally significant themes of Houston as the Nation's "Energy Capital" and Texas independence are significant chapters of our history. These important American stories are best told through the framework of a National Heritage Area by the people of the Buffalo Bayou themselves and the partner organizations that represent them.

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.