STATEMENT OF WILLIAM D. SHADDOX, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES ON S. 1325, TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO STUDY THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF DESIGNATING SITES IN THE LOWER MISSISSIPPI RIVER AREA IN THE STATE OF LOUISIANA AS A UNIT OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
OCTOBER 19, 2011
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1325, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of designating sites in the Lower Mississippi River Area in the State of Louisiana as a unit of the National Park System, and for other purposes.
The Department supports this legislation with amendments that are described later in this statement. However, we feel that priority should be given to the 37 previously authorized studies for potential units of the National Park System, potential new National Heritage Areas, and potential additions to the National Trails System and National Wild and Scenic Rivers System that have not yet been transmitted to Congress.
S. 1325 would authorize a study of natural, cultural, historical, and recreational resources in Plaquemines Parish, located south of the City of New Orleans, for potential designation as a unit of the National Park System. The study area would include Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson, located on opposite sides of a bend in the Mississippi River about eight miles upstream from the town of Venice, Louisiana, and approximately 73 river miles downstream from New Orleans at an ancient "Head of Passes" site. The term "Head of Passes" refers to the site where the main stem of the Mississippi River branches off to the east, the south, and the southwest at its mouth in the Gulf of Mexico. The present day Head of Passes is just south of the town of Venice. The study is estimated to cost between $200,000 and $400,000.
Fort St. Philip was originally built in 1749, and the construction of Fort Jackson, named for Andrew Jackson, the hero of the Battle of New Orleans in 1815, began in 1822. Fort St. Philip played an important defensive role in the Battle of New Orleans and both forts were employed unsuccessfully to defend New Orleans and the Confederacy from Admiral Farragut's union fleet during the Civil War. Both Fort St. Philip and Fort Jackson have been designated as National Historic Landmarks, which attests to their national significance. Fort St. Philip, privately owned at the present time, is in ruins and overgrown with vegetation. Fort Jackson was operated by Plaquemines Parish as a historical museum until Hurricane Katrina caused extensive damage, and it has been closed to the public ever since.
While the Department supports S. 1325, we would like to recommend some amendments to the bill. We would be pleased to work with the committee and the bill's sponsor to develop language for these amendments.
First, we recommend tightening the definition of the study area in section 3(1). While it appears that the focus of the study is on the two historic forts and related resources, the bill defines the study area as the "Lower Mississippi River area in the State of Louisiana," which could be interpreted as a much broader area than what is intended. The scope of the study would be clarified by limiting the study area to the two forts and related and supporting resources in Plaquemines Parish.
Second, we recommend providing a three-year period for completing the study, rather than 18 months, as provided for in section 4(a). This change would provide for the full three years that a special resource study usually requires, and it would make the bill consistent with most of the other special resource study bills Congress has enacted in recent years.
Third, we are concerned about the reference in section 4(a) to "non-Federal sources" of funds made available to carry out the study, which suggests that the study could be privately funded. We would like to carefully consider the issues that might arise from conducting a privately funded special resource study and, if we determine that any changes to the legislation are necessary, make the appropriate recommendation.
Finally, we recommend removing language in section 4(a)(1)(B) that suggests a specific designation for the area, the "Lower Mississippi River National Park," before the study is conducted. A special resource study that finds that an area meets the criteria for designation as a unit of the National Park System would also, as part of those findings, identify the most appropriate type of designation for the area. A study might also find that options other than designation of a new park unit might be more suitable or feasible.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.