STATEMENT OF WILLIAM D. SHADDOX, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1303, TO ESTABLISH FORT MONROE NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
OCTOBER 19, 2011
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1303, the Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act of 2011.
The Department supports enactment of S. 1303 with some technical amendments.
S. 1303 would establish Fort Monroe National Historical Park as a unit of the National Park System. The legislation authorizes the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to enter into cooperative agreements with the Commonwealth of Virginia (Commonwealth) or any other party under which the Secretary may identify, interpret, and provide assistance for the preservation of non-federal properties within the boundary of the park or in the historic area, including the operation of a joint visitor center. It authorizes the Secretary to provide technical assistance and public interpretation of resources within the historic area and at any sites in close proximity to the park that are related to events or persons associated with the fort. Additionally, the Secretary may coordinate interpretation between the park and the Captain John Smith Chesapeake National Historic Trail. Long-term protection and public interpretation of the Old Point Comfort Lighthouse would be provided for through an interagency agreement between the Secretary and the Secretary of Homeland Security.
Fort Monroe is located in Hampton, Virginia, where the James River meets the Chesapeake Bay, in close proximity to Yorktown, Jamestown, and Williamsburg. Constructed between 1819 and 1834, Fort Monroe has served as one of the country's major military posts from the time of its establishment. However, the peninsula's strategic location was recognized much earlier in 1608, by Captain John Smith. Later, the site was the first landing point for enslaved captives arriving from Africa to the English Colony. After the burning of Washington during the War of 1812, the need for improved fortifications led to the construction of Fortress Monroe. During the Civil War, the fort was a staging area for Union land and naval expeditions and the site of the "Contraband Decision" when three escaped enslaved men were not returned to their Confederate commander. From May 1865 to May 1867, the fort was the site for the imprisonment of Confederate President Jefferson Davis. The fort remained an active Army base until its deactivation in 2011 as a result of the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure Commission findings. The deed to several parcels at Fort Monroe has a reverter clause that states, if the land is no longer needed for military purposes, it reverts to the Commonwealth of Virginia.
In December 1960, the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) designated Fort Monroe as a National Historic Landmark. At the request of former Representative Thelma Drake, the NPS conducted a reconnaissance level study of the fort. The 2008 study concluded that the fort, while hosting resources of national significance, would not be feasible to administer in its entirety because of extensive costs. The need for NPS management could not be determined until a reuse plan had been completed and further decisions were made about which agency would administer the reuse plan in the future.
The Fort Monroe Federal Area Development Authority (FMFADA) was established as a political subdivision of the Commonwealth to serve as the official redevelopment authority recognized by the DOD in order to study, plan, and recommend the best use of the resources that would remain when the base was deactivated. The reuse plan identified as a key to consideration of a national park, was completed after the 2008 NPS reconnaissance study. In November 2009, the FMFADA voted to support having parts of the fort established as a unit of the national park system including the historic fort structure, the moat, some historic structures within the fort and two outlying batteries. The Fort Monroe Authority (FMA) was established to administer the reuse plan. The FMA entered into a programmatic agreement for future treatment of historic resources and development of design standards for the properties within the NHL.
In 2010, members of the Virginia congressional delegation requested that the NPS conduct a site visit as a follow-up to the 2008 reconnaissance study. A NPS team conducted a week-long site visit to Fort Monroe in July of 2010. The team conducted stakeholder meetings and gathered information on fort resources. With the reuse plan and programmatic agreement in place and Commonwealth legislation providing adequate management authority to administer the properties, the issues raised in the 2008 reconnaissance study are resolved. The 2010 site visit determined that a NPS presence at Fort Monroe would be appropriate under certain conditions including the donation of property interests by the State, the institution of other protective mechanisms within the boundary of the park, and the provision of maintenance, utilities, and other services for NPS park assets by the FMA.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, local elected leaders, and many others have expressed support for establishment of a park. Preliminary estimates identified initial capital investment costs of $5 million and initial start up operational costs of $700,000 to $800,000. Additional costs for managing the beach and other operations will eventually require an annual operating budget of $1.6 million. If the park were established, a comprehensive planning process would assess the actual visitor services and staffing needs, further defining the park's operational budget.
The Department appreciates the opportunity to testify on this bill. I will be glad to answer any questions.