H.R. 6038

To establish a procedure for the conveyance of certain Federal property around the Dickinson Reservoir in the State of North Dakota

Statement of Austin Ewell
Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science
U.S. Department of the Interior

Before the
Committee on Natural Resources 
Water, Power, and Oceans Subcommittee
U.S. House of Representatives

on H.R. 6038, a bill to establish a procedure for the conveyance of certain Federal property
around the Dickinson Reservoir in the State of North Dakota.

July 11, 2018

Chairman Gosar, Ranking Member Huffman, and Members of the Subcommittee, I am Austin Ewell, Deputy Assistant Secretary for Water and Science at the Department of the Interior (Department).  Thank you for the opportunity to provide the view of the Department on H.R. 6038, a bill to establish a procedure for the conveyance of certain Federal property around the Dickinson Reservoir in the State of North Dakota.

We have worked closely with the authors of this bill and its companion legislation in the Senate and are pleased that they have adopted many of the Department’s suggested modifications.  My testimony offers several additional changes we would like to see in the bill and respectfully ask that they be considered as this legislation works its way toward enactment.

As the Department testified on the Senate companion measure, the Department does not support the wide-scale sale or transfer of Federal lands.  H.R. 6038; however, recognizes the importance of managing the recreation land (as defined in Section 1(8)) for recreation and public purposes, while providing a path for current permitted cabin owners and the Dickinson Parks and Recreation Department to take ownership of certain Federal lands, allowing flexible management of the lands to meet local needs and alleviate the administrative oversight and management of the land.

The Flood Control Act of 1944 authorized construction of Dickinson Dam and Reservoir (Project) as part of the Dickinson Unit, Heart Division, Pick-Sloan Missouri Basin Program.  Federal lands were acquired for Project purposes which include municipal water supply, irrigation with flood control, and recreation benefits.  The Project provided municipal water to the City of Dickinson until 1991 when the City switched its water supply to the Southwest Pipeline Project.  There are currently two water service contracts associated with the Project, one with Dickinson Parks and Recreation and one with an irrigation district downstream of the Reservoir.

The current management agreement between Reclamation and Dickinson Parks and Recreation for operation and maintenance of most of the lands around the Reservoir includes the area for 41 permitted exclusive use cabins occupied year-round (approximately 25 acres) as well as additional lands dedicated to recreation, and wildlife management (approximately 2,434 acres).  In addition to lands managed by Dickinson Parks and Recreation, Reclamation leases a 10-acre parcel to the North Dakota Game and Fish Department (NDG&F) for the Southwest District Headquarters.  In 2013, Reclamation’s Dakotas Area Office (DKAO) requested a fair market appraisal of the rates for the exclusive use cabins be conducted pursuant to the Code of Federal Regulations related to Use of Bureau of Reclamation Land, Facilities, and Waterbodies (43 CFR 429).  As required by Department policy, the appraisals were conducted by the Department of the Interior’s Office of Valuation Services for all reservoirs with exclusive use under the administration of DKAO, resulting in the need to raise rates at all areas to recover fair market value.  The results of the appraisal were presented to the respective managing partners in 2016.

Section 1 of H.R. 6038 defines Map, Permitted Cabin Land, and Recreation Land to identify lands to transfer.  The map referenced was prepared by Reclamation for illustration purposes based on the best information currently available.  We recommend revising the description of Permitted Cabin Land and Recreation Land as those lands generally depicted on the map and those acquired for Dickinson Reservoir and managed by Dickinson Parks and Recreation Department as determined by Reclamation.  This will allow the proper transfer of the lands should a title or records search find a discrepancy in the map.

Section 2(c) of H.R. 6038 provides for the fair market value of a property to be determined by a third-party appraiser, valuing the property as unimproved residential property, excluding all improvements.  The Department recommends that the bill be amended to include a requirement for review of the third-party appraisal by the Office of Valuation Services as specified in section 2201.4 of title 43, Code of Federal Regulations (or successor regulations) to ensure that the third-party appraisal credibly represents the fair market value of the property being conveyed.

Section 2(c)3 and 2(d) of H.R. 6038 provides that proceeds for the sale of land that exceed the costs of preparing the sale by the Dickinson Parks & Recreation be made available to the Secretary, without further appropriation, for activities relating to the operation of the Dickinson Dam and Reservoir. The Department has concerns that the language may not adequately ensure that the Government receives all such proceeds for Permitted Cabin Land conveyed to a permittee. The Department is willing to work with the Committee to amend the language to meet the author’s intent.

The Department is pleased to offer these suggested modifications and would be happy to continue our work with the sponsors to achieve our mutual goals. 

This concludes my written statement.

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