To allow certain property in the Town of Louisa, Virginia, to be used for purposes related to compliance with water quality standards
STATEMENT FOR THE RECORD OF THE NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON WATER, POWER, AND OCEANS OF THE HOUSE NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE CONCERNING H.R. 5032, TO ALLOW CERTAIN PROPERTY IN THE TOWN OF LOUISA, VIRGINIA, TO BE USED FOR PURPOSES RELATED TO COMPLIANCE WITH WATER QUALITY STANDARDS, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
JUNE 23, 2016
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 5032, to allow certain property in the town of Louisa, Virginia, to be used for purposes related to compliance with water quality standards, and for other purposes.
While the Department is sympathetic to the need of the town of Louisa to address its drinking water quality issue in a timely and cost-effective manner, we oppose H.R. 5032. We would like to have the opportunity to continue to work with the town and the state to resolve the issue administratively, in a way that protects the integrity of the Land and Water Conservation Fund (LWCF) state grant program.
H.R. 5032 would allow the town of Louisa to use a portion of city-owned Community Park for a water-quality treatment facility, without replacing the land lost for recreational purposes. Community Park was developed for use as a public recreational facility using a $85,425 matching grant received in 2004 from the LWCF state grant program. The funding was used to help install a picnic area and playing field and make other landscape improvements. Upon acceptance of the federal funding, the state and the town entered into a project agreement subject to the requirements of the LWCF Act. Although the entire park is 12.3 acres, only about 7 acres in its northern portion are subject to the requirements of LWCF Act.
Currently, the town needs to establish a new source for its drinking water supply and would like to do so in Community Park based on favorable results from a test well. When the park was chosen as one of two sites to be tested for a potential new well, the test well was drilled in the portion of the park subject to LWCF requirements. The town would now like to convert this test well into a production well, which would further require, at a minimum, the construction of an approximately 240-square-foot well house, also in the park, to support the well’s operation. Under the terms and conditions of the LWCF grant the town received, the town is required to replace any area removed from public outdoor recreation with land that is of at least equal fair market value and of reasonably equivalent recreational utility.
The LWCF Act was established in 1965 to conserve, develop, and utilize outdoor recreation resources for the benefit and enjoyment of the American people. The LWCF state grant program, administered by the National Park Service (NPS), provides matching grants to states and local governments to support the acquisition and development of lands for a wide variety of public outdoor recreation opportunities. The communities receiving this assistance are protected from having the recreational lands converted to other uses without the approval of the Secretary of the Interior, whose approval of a conversion must be conditioned upon the provision of replacement recreation land.
In December 2015, the Virginia Department of Conservation and Recreation, on behalf of the town, sought an exception to the LWCF Act land-replacement requirement based on the small size of the area anticipated to be affected and the expectation that the impacts to the recreation utility of the park would be relatively minimal. However, the NPS could not grant that request because the law does not provide for administrative waivers based on size or any other factor. On March 29, 2016, the NPS did approve the state’s request for “conversion with delayed replacement,” giving the town the ability to move ahead with the well development immediately while it works to meet the conversion requirements over the next year.
Although we understand the town’s desire for an exemption from the LWCF Act land-replacement requirement, we want to point out that there are more than 42,000 other parks and recreation areas in the United States that have received LWCF assistance, and they are all subject to the same requirements. Each year, the NPS receives multiple conversion requests from LWCF grant recipients across the country for consideration for a wide variety of needs, with public infrastructure needs being the most common reason communities seek a conversion to non-recreation use. Over the 53-year life of the LWCF program, thousands of communities that have sought a conversion have complied with the replacement-land requirement. Granting an exception for one town through legislation would be unfair to all the communities that have fulfilled their contractual obligations under the LWCF law. And, it would undermine a very successful program that has ensured the continued benefits of community-accessible open space and recreational facilities for the American people.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes our statement.