Fort Ontario Study Act
STATEMENT OF WILLIAM SHADDOX, ACTING ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON FEDERAL LANDS OF THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING H. R. 4202, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A SPECIAL RESOURCE STUDY OF FORT ONTARIO IN THE STATE OF NEW YORK.
May 24, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to provide the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 4202, to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study of Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York.
The Department supports enactment of H.R. 4202 with amendments described later in this testimony. However, we believe that priority should be given to the 24 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.
H.R. 4202 authorizes a special resource study of Fort Ontario in Oswego, New York. This study would determine whether this site meets the National Park Service’s criteria for inclusion in the National Park System of national significance, suitability, and feasibility, and the need for National Park Service management. The study would also consider other alternatives for preservation, protection, and interpretation of the resources by the Federal government, State or local government entities, or private and non-profit entities. Alternatives might include, for example, the designation of the site as an affiliated area of the National Park Service, where the National Park Service would provide technical assistance to the site but not own or manage it. We estimate the cost of the study to range from $200,000 to $300,000, based on similar types of studies conducted in recent years.
The National Park Service has been asked to conduct a reconnaissance survey of Fort Ontario at by Representative John Katko, the sponsor of H.R. 4202. The NPS has authority to conduct preliminary resource assessments on potential study areas or sites without specific Congressional authorization. The term “reconnaissance survey” is used to describe this type of assessment, which provides a cursory review and analysis of available resources to determine if a more thorough analysis, provided by a special resource study, is warranted. The National Park Service’s work on the reconnaissance survey, scheduled for early 2017, will provide a foundation for the special resource study, if H.R. 4202 is enacted.
Fort Ontario has played a role in virtually every major American conflict from the French and Indian War to World War II. The original earthen fort was built by the British in 1755 to protect key trade routes. Destroyed by the French the next year, it was rebuilt by the British in 1759 who abandoned it in 1778; patriot forces destroyed that fort the same year. The British built the third fort in 1792 and occupied it until 1796 after the signing of the Jay Treaty. That fort was destroyed in 1814 by the British during the War of 1812. The fourth, and current fort, was constructed beginning in 1839. Completed in 1844 as an earthen, five-bastioned, timber revetted star fort, it was improved beginning in 1863 through the addition of masonry scarp walls. It remains in this configuration today.
During World War I, the fort and grounds were used as a training facility, and during World War II as the nation's only emergency refugee camp from 1944 to 1946. It was conveyed to the state of New York in 1946 and is now a state park. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970.
H.R. 4202 includes certain requirements for the study, which we recommend deleting. Specifically, we urge deleting section 3(b)(5), which would require an analysis of the effect of designation as a unit of the National Park System on existing commercial and recreational activities, and on activities concerning energy production and transmission infrastructure, and on the authority of state and local governments to manage those activities. We also urge deleting section 3(b)(6), which would require an identification of any authorities that would compel or permit the Secretary of the Interior to influence or participate in local land use decisions or place restrictions on non-federal lands.
The purpose of conducting a special resource study is to determine whether a resource meets the criteria for inclusion in the National Park System and, if it does not, to provide information on alternative means to protect the resource. We believe that the special resource study requirements under existing law result in a sufficient amount of information and analysis of the effects of including a resource in the National Park System. These additional requirements could potentially increase the cost of the study and the time required to complete it.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes our prepared statement. I would be happy to respond to any questions about this matter.