STATEMENT OF STEPHANIE TOOTHMAN ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, DEPARTMENT OF INTERIOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1708, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO ESTABLISH THE BLACKSTONE RIVER VALLEY NATIONAL HISTORICAL PARK IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF MASSACHUSETTS AND THE STATE OF RHODE ISLAND.
MARCH 7, 2012
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1708, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to establish the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.
The Department supports S. 1708, if amended in accordance with this testimony.
S. 1708 would establish a new unit of the National Park System, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park (Park) within the existing, bi-state, Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor (Corridor) that extends from Worcester, Massachusetts to Providence, Rhode Island.The bill directs the Secretary of the Interior (Secretary) to administer the Park in accordance with the laws applicable to the National Park System and authorizes the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements with state and local governments as well as the coordinating entity for the Corridor and others, for the purpose of collaborating on programs, projects and activities that further the purposes of the Park.
The bill also authorizes the Secretary to acquire land for the Park from willing sellers with donated or appropriated funds, transfer from another federal agency, or exchange. Lands owned by the Commonwealth of Massachusetts or the State of Rhode Island, or their political subdivisions, may only be acquired by donation or exchange.Finally, the Secretary is directed to complete a General Management Plan for the Park within three years after funds are made available.Among other things, the plan must seek to make maximum practicable use of certain named visitor facilities in the Corridor that are operated by Corridor partners, many of which were developed with significant investment of federal funds.
S. 1708 is consistent with the findings of the Special Resources Study (SRS) that the National Park Service (NPS) completed in accordance with Public Law 109-338 of 2006, which directed the NPS to conduct the SRS to "evaluate the possibility of (A) designating one or more sites or landscape features as a unit of the National Park System; and (B) coordinating and complementing actions by the [Corridor] Commission, local governments, and State and Federal agencies, in the preservationand interpretation of significant resources within the Corridor."
The SRS evaluated a broad range of sites, features and resources throughout the Blackstone River Valley and concluded that the following meet the criteria for designation as a unit of the National Park System: Old Slater Mill National Historic Landmark district in Pawtucket, Rhode Island, the historic mill villages of Ashton and Slatersville in Rhode Island, and Hopedale and Whitinsville in Massachusetts; the Blackstone River and its tributaries; and the Blackstone Canal.S. 1708 proposes to include these sites and features in a new unit of the National Park System.
The SRS also evaluated various management alternatives with different scopes and levels of National Park Service involvement.The preferred alternative, from both an environmental and park management perspective, is a new unit of the National Park System that consists of the aforementioned sites and features, and that would partner with the coordinating entity for the Corridor and others to undertake the protection and interpretation of these resources.S. 1708 reflects that recommendation, as it proposes to create a National Historical Park in the Blackstone River Valley of Massachusetts and Rhode Island.The Park would be granted the necessary authorities to continue to work with the Corridor and other partners to optimize protection, management, and public enjoyment of these resources.We believe that the NPS, working in partnership with local groups within the Corridor is the most effective and cost efficient management model for a new unit of the National Park System in the Blackstone River Valley.
If established based upon the management alternative recommended in the SRS, we estimate that the cost to create the Park would be $6.1 million in one-time expenditures on research, planning, construction and/or rehabilitation, and exhibits.When the Park is fully established, operational costs are estimated to be $3.5 million annually for salaries, supplies and equipment.All funds would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations.
We recommend several amendments to S. 1708 to clarify authorities and conform the bill to similar legislation establishing new National Park System units.
First, we recommend changing the name of the Park to Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park.While we have the greatest respect for the late Senator John H. Chafee and recall his strong support for the protection of our national parks and his efforts to preserve the resources of the Blackstone River Valley, we know of no instances of national parks being named after their congressional sponsors nor do we wish to set this precedent.Naming the Park after the late senator would divert attention from the important resources and values that Park visitors learn about at national park sites, and could cause confusion between the park and the surrounding national heritage corridor that bears the senator's name.
As an alternative, we recommend that the committee consider dedicating the Park to Senator Chafee, naming the main visitor center in his honor, or providing some interpretive exhibits or materials about his work.
Second, we recommend that parcels for Federal land acquisition be prioritized in order to establish a base for NPS ownership and management and that NPS be authorized to acquire a limited amount of land for administrative purposes outside the boundary of the Park.NPS currently has office space outside of the park boundary in Woonsocket, RI, and being able to continue to use this space for purposes of the park will save money and allow a central location that will better serve the urban communities of the park.We also recommend language that creates a matching requirement for the expenditure of Federal funds under cooperative agreements for any natural, historic or cultural resource protection project in the Park or the Corridor that is consistent with the general management plan. There is approximately $1 million in unexpended funds for the heritage corridor that remains available for these types of projects.The use of this cooperative agreement authority for any future projects would be subject to further appropriations for this purpose and Administration priorities.We will be happy to work with the Committee on drafting these suggested amendments.
Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement.I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.