HR 716 - 3.14.13


March 14, 2013

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior regarding H.R. 716, a bill to direct the Secretary of the Interior to convey certain federal land to the City of Vancouver, Washington.

The Department strongly opposes the enactment of this legislation.H.R. 716 requires the conveyance to the City of Vancouver of seven acres of federal land within the boundaries of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site, including the park's main historic hangers, headquarters, and munitions building.Such a conveyance threatens the values and resources of the National Historic Site. We believe that continued management of this federal land by the National Park Service would be the best way to ensure the protection of the park's nationally significant cultural resources in perpetuity and to continue to provide top-quality education and interpretation of its unique history.

The federal land within the boundaries of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site that would be conveyed to the City of Vancouver under H.R. 716 includes the Pearson Air Museum complex, which contains the main hangar and three historic structures dating to World War I or before. The federal land also includes archaeological sites associated with the Hudson's Bay Company multi-cultural fur trade post, containing resources from many indigenous peoples; the early U.S. Army Vancouver Barracks; and early Army aviation history tied to Pearson Field.These seven acres would be transferred to the City of Vancouver, Washington, without consideration, with the City of Vancouver paying only the cost of conveyance.

Removing this property from federal ownership would also remove federal protections under cultural resources preservation laws such as the National Historic Preservation Act, the Archeological Resources Protection Act, the Native American Graves Repatriation Act, and the American Indian Religious Freedom Act.

Fort Vancouver National Monument was authorized by Congress in 1948 and established in 1958 to preserve cultural resources associated with, and to tell the story of, colonial fur trading, American settlement, and U.S. Army history in the Pacific Northwest.In 1961, the authorized boundaries were expanded to include adjacent areas and the park designation was changed to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.In 1972, the National Park Service purchased a 72-acre parcel of land within the boundary of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site from the City of Vancouver, which included the Pearson Air Museum complex.While there are over a dozen general aviation museums in the Northwest, the place-based history of Pearson Field makes the Pearson Air Museum complex a unique nationally-significant part of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

In 1994, the City of Vancouver and the National Park Service entered into a Memorandum of Agreement to allow for the development of a new air museum within the historic site, and the park's General Management Plan was amended to conform to this mutual goal. In 1995, the National Park Service and the City of Vancouver entered into a cooperative agreement for operation of the air museum on behalf of the National Park Service. In 2005, the City entered into a sub-agreement with the Fort Vancouver National Trust to operate the museum on behalf of the City of Vancouver.

For several years the Trust allowed special events to occur at the museum site without National Park Service review and outside of federal policies.The National Park Service worked for several years behind the scenes to resolve the handling of special events, but unfortunately these efforts were unsuccessful.Although the National Park Service is held accountable for events that occur on federal property, the Trust stated that it did not want to be subjected to federal rules and NPS oversight and they approved events that were in violation of NPS laws, regulations, and policies.In the summer of 2012, the Trust was in the process of charging fees and issuing permits for several large scale, multi-thousand person outdoor events when the NPS determined that aspects of these events conflicted with NPS law and policy. The National Park Service offered to work directly with the applicants to adapt their events in order to meet NPS laws and regulations.

Since April 2012, the NPS and the Trust have been unable to agree to terms of a new cooperative agreement for operation of the museum that would adhere to NPS regulations, laws and policies.Consequently, the NPS and the City of Vancouver terminated their agreement on February 1, 2013, which resulted in the cancellation of the sub-agreement with the Trust.The Trust no longer operates the museum.

Our strong opposition to this bill is grounded in the fact that these seven acres and their cultural resources are integral to Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.Removal of this land from the management of the National Park Service would diminish the level of protection afforded to this area and would diminish the integrity of resources, including the reconstructed fur trade post, within the rest of the National Historic Site that are essential to the enabling legislation of the park. This bill would create a non-federal area within the boundaries of the park.These adjacent sites would be managed by different entities according to different standards for resource protection and special events management, and would create not only confusion for the public but also friction in their management.This would likely adversely affect the resources of the surrounding national park areas while creating a cumulative negative impact on the park, its setting, and the ability of the visitor to connect with and understand its historical significance in totality.

Congress entrusted the National Park Service with the care and stewardship of Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.Pearson Air Museum has been a vital and valued part of the park, and for the past 18 years, the National Park Service has worked with partners, including the City of Vancouver, to ensure that the museum's resources are preserved and that it is open and accessible to the public.The National Park Service understands the goal of local residents and the City of Vancouver to have the museum open and we have achieved that shared goal. The National Park Service reopened the museum on February 27, 2013, and has waived admission for the public. We have developed temporary exhibits around the theme of historic transportation in the region and intend to refocus the exhibits on aviation when we secure the necessary artifacts and exhibits.We have contacted other aviation museums, organizations and private owners to explore housing loaned aviation artifacts.

The National Park Service is also actively working with the public who are interested in holding special events at the site and we have already issued several permits for the near future.

We look forward to continuing to work with the City of Vancouver to protect these nationally-significant resources and to serve their local residents.To that end, we have asked the City of Vancouver to reinstall the exhibits that were specifically designed for this museum. We have made several attempts to contact City officials through letters and phone calls and will continue to reach out to City officials in the hopes that they would like to work with us to see this museum operate to full capacity.

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement.I would be pleased to answer questions that you or other members of the committee might have.

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