H.R. 2444

To establish Fort Gerónimo del Boquerón in Puerto Rico as an affiliated area of the National Park System

STATEMENT OF JOY BEASLEY, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES, PARTNERSHIPS, AND SCIENCE, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, FORESTS, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING H.R. 2444, A BILL TO ESTABLISH FORT SAN GERÓNIMO DEL BOQUERÓN IN PUERTO RICO AS AN AFFILIATED AREA OF THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

MAY 27, 2021

Chairman Neguse, Ranking Member Fulcher, and members of the Subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 2444, a bill to establish Fort San Gerónimo Del Boquerón in Puerto Rico as an affiliated area of the National Park System, and for other purposes.

The Department supports H.R. 2444 with amendments. Designating this fort as an affiliated area would provide an appropriate way to assist in the protection and interpretation of an important resource associated with Spanish colonial history in Puerto Rico.

H.R. 2444 would establish Fort San Gerónimo del Boquerón (Fort San Gerónimo) as an affiliated area of the National Park System. The bill designates the Institute of Puerto Rican Culture, which currently manages the fort, as the management entity for the affiliated area and authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to provide technical assistance and enter into cooperative agreements with the management entity for the purpose of providing financial assistance for the marketing, marking, interpretation, and preservation of the affiliated area. As an affiliated area, Fort San Gerónimo would continue under non-federal ownership and management, but the management entity would be required to administer the site consistent with laws applicable to units of the National Park System.

Affiliated areas comprise a variety of locations in the United States that preserve significant properties outside of the National Park System. Some of these have been designated by Acts of Congress and others have been designated administratively. All draw on technical assistance or financial aid from the National Park Service (NPS).

For 500 years, San Juan, Puerto Rico played a key role in the European powers’ command of the Caribbean as a strategic access point to the Americas. A massive fortification system was built by Spanish military engineers between the 16th and 19th centuries to protect the city. Three of the forts that were part of this system are included in the San Juan National Historic Site (NHS), administered by the NPS. Fort San Gerónimo, also part of this system, is a small, two-level, stone masonry fort listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1983 and is now partially submerged in the Condado Lagoon.

Fort San Gerónimo was the subject of a special resource study by the NPS, conducted pursuant to Public Law 111-11, which directed the Secretary of the Interior to determine the national significance, suitability, and feasibility of including the fort and other related resources as part of San Juan NHS and to consider alternative methods and means for the protection and interpretation of the fort. The study examined the fort under both the criteria for a new unit and as an addition to the boundary of San Juan NHS. The study findings were transmitted to Congress in March 2020.

Fort San Gerónimo was found to meet the special resource study criteria for national significance and suitability, but not feasibility, for establishing the site as a new unit. Among the numerous aspects of feasibility evaluated, the most prohibitive factor is the high cost of historic preservation treatment to repair and rehabilitate the fort, which is severely deteriorated and in poor condition. As a result of the negative feasibility findings, the need for direct National Park Service management was not evaluated in detail. The findings were similar when the NPS evaluated the fort specifically for inclusion in the boundary of San Juan NHS. However, the NPS recognizes that there is strong public support and a potential opportunity for enhancing the interpretation and preservation of Fort San Gerónimo. In cases such as this, where resources meet the criteria for national significance and suitability but not other criteria for inclusion in the National Park System, an affiliated area designation may be appropriate. We believe that is the case here.

While the Department supports H.R. 2444, we recommend amending the legislation to include a reference to a legislative map detailing the boundary of the proposed affiliated area. We also recommend clarifying section 3(g), relating to developing a general management plan, and deleting sections 3(h) and 3(i), which address private property protection and activities outside of the affiliated area, respectively, both of which we believe are unnecessary. We would be pleased to provide a legislative map and recommended amendments for these purposes.

Chairman Neguse, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

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