STATEMENT OFKATHERINE H. STEVENSON
ACTING ASSISTANT DIRECTOR, BUSINESS SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE,
U. S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR,
BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS
OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES,
CONCERNING S. 2512, A BILL TO ESTABLISH
THE MISSISSIPPI DELTA NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA
IN THE STATE OF MISSISSIPPI, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
APRIL 9, 2008
Mr. Chairman and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2512, a bill to establish the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area in the State of Mississippi.
The Department cannot support S. 2512 unless the bill is amended to be a feasibility study for a Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area. The Department believes that a feasibility study should be required for every proposed national heritage area and the study should be evaluated against our interim criteria before designation. The standards for evaluating areas proposed for national designation are an essential element prior to establishing a national heritage area. A study should be prepared that demonstrates evidence of place-based resources that tell a nationally important story, which has the support and involvement of the local community.
Various congressionally mandated studies have previously gathered information on the Mississippi Delta region, including the Lower Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study and the Mississippi River Corridor Study. While these studies have confirmed the importance and significance of the Mississippi Delta region, they were undertaken before generally accepted criteria for designating heritage areas had been established, and were directed at a much larger region than the area encompassed by this bill.
The Department is willing to provide advice or assistance in the completion of a study that meets applicable standards and provides Congress with the necessary information and assessment upon which to base its decision regarding designation in the future.
With 37 national heritage areas designated across 27 states, and more heritage area legislative proposals forthcoming, the Administration believes it is critical for Congress to enact national heritage area program legislation. This 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 would also clarify the expectation that heritage areas would work toward self-sufficiency by outlining the necessary steps, including appropriate planning, to achieve that goal.
The Mississippi River's role as a major transporter of goods and people has long influenced the Delta's history and character. Since the earliest days of human habitation, the Mississippi River has been essential for transportation, communication, and commerce. The river and associated ecosystems are part of North America's largest wetland area and provide habitat for a wide variety of flora, fauna, and aquatic species. Archeological sites across the Delta attest to the thousands of years of human occupation. The Mississippi Delta's cultural traditions are rich and diverse; it is a land of converging cultures. The Delta has also been the site of a number of important historic events, such as the Great Flood of 1927 and the Civil Rights Movement.
S. 2512 would establish a Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area along the lines outlined in the Lower Mississippi Delta Region Heritage Study, but covering a substantially smaller area, located entirely in the State of Mississippi. It would include some 18 counties in the State located within the alluvial floodplain of the Mississippi River. It would also encompass the Delta National Forest.
The bill designates the Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area Partnership as the coordinating entity of the heritage area. The Partnership is to be governed by a board of directors composed of 15 members. The members are to be appointed by various entities, including the Governor; various universities, councils, and commissions; and County boards from the heritage area.
Mr. Chairman, the Department is prepared to work with the subcommittee on amending S. 2512 to authorize a feasibility study for a Mississippi Delta National Heritage Area.
This concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any members of the Subcommittee may have.