S. 1930 and H.R. 3371, Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park Boundary Adjustment Act of 2015
STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1930 AND H.R. 3371, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO ADJUST THE BOUNDARY OF THE KENNESAW MOUNTAIN NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD PARK AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 17, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1930 and H.R. 3371, bills to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to adjust the boundary of the Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park in the State of Georgia to include the Wallis House and Harriston Hill, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 1930 and would support H.R. 3371 if amended in accordance with this statement. This legislation would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to acquire by donation or exchange approximately 8 acres of land or interests in land known as the Wallis House property and Harriston Hill in Cobb County, Georgia.
The Wallis house is one of the few original structures remaining from the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. The house is in its original location, ½ mile west of the park on Burnt Hickory Road. The Wallis house was built by Josiah Wallis in 1853 and occupied by his family until the Civil War, when it was used first as a Confederate hospital and then as the headquarters for Union General O.O. Howard during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. General William T. Sherman was stationed at the Wallis house during the Battle of Kolb’s Farm that took place at the south end of the park and immediately preceded the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. Adjacent to the Wallis house is Harriston Hill, which offers a sweeping vista of the valley leading to the Confederate line atop Kennesaw Mountain. From this position it is clear why General Howard picked this site for his headquarters and signaling position. The majority of the park’s auto tour and trails interpret Confederate positions. The acquisition of this site would enhance visitor understanding of the Union strategy during the Battle of Kennesaw Mountain. This addition would enable the park to interpret a key Union position in the last major battle leading to the fall of Atlanta during the Civil War.
The Wallis house was in imminent danger of being demolished by a developer in 2002. The developer had purchased 26.66 acres including the Wallis house and adjoining Harriston Hill with plans to construct 43 homes on the property. In cooperation with the National Park Service, the Cobb Land Trust, and the Georgia Civil War Commission, Cobb County agreed to purchase the Wallis house property and the 5.5 acres encompassing Harriston Hill with the intent of donating the properties to Kennesaw Mountain National Battlefield Park. The Cobb Land Trust agreed to purchase 1.13 acres at the foot of Harriston Hill that are essential for providing visitor access to all properties and to donate this property to the NPS. Neither the county nor the Cobb Land Trust has the funds to restore, maintain or manage the site, and no other entity has indicated the interest or ability to do so.
The NPS estimates that the site would require an immediate one-time cost of $1 million for repair and safety improvements, and an annual operational cost of $204,000 for salaries, supplies, and maintenance. All funds would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations.
The Department supports S. 1930 as introduced and would support H.R. 3371 as passed by the House if amended to conform to the language in S. 1930. As passed by the House, H.R. 3371 makes the establishment of the expanded boundary subject to the written consent of the owners of properties that would be included within the new boundary. This places landowners, rather than Congress or the Administration, in the position of determining the boundary of a federal park, which we believe is inappropriate. This provision has the potential to create legal and practical confusion over the boundary since it is possible that a landowner could give consent, then change his or her mind and withdraw consent or convey the property to another owner who withdraws consent. If the intent of this language is to ensure that no land is included within the park boundary without the consent of the landowner, we recommend amending the bill to provide that the park boundary shall not be adjusted unless and until a specified property is acquired for the park. By waiting to include land in the boundary until it is acquired by the federal government, this approach avoids entirely the potential problems we see with the approach used in the House bill. Our recommended approach has precedent in other park laws.
H.R. 3371 prohibits acquisition by condemnation of any land or interests in land within the boundaries of the park. However, the bill already limits acquisition to donation or exchange. If the intent of this provision is to prohibit condemnation of the approximately 8 acres that would be included in the park boundary, we believe limiting acquisition to donation or exchange achieves the same goal.
H.R. 3371 also includes language that says that an activity outside the boundary shall not be precluded because it can be heard or seen inside the park boundary. The Department has concerns about this language. It is misleading, as it suggests that the NPS may have authority to preclude activities outside the boundaries, which it does not. Of even greater concern, however, is that the language could discourage park managers from addressing threats to park resources from external sources. Even though the NPS does not control what happens outside of its boundaries, park managers have a responsibility under the NPS Organic Act and other laws to work with owners of properties outside of park boundaries to resolve problems that could negatively impact the resources the NPS is responsible for protecting.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions you or any members of the subcommittee may have.