S. 2223

Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act

Statement of
Mike Pool
Acting Deputy Director
Bureau of Land Management 
Department of the Interior
Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee
Subcommittee on Public Lands and Forests
S. 2223, Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act
April 21, 2016

Thank you for inviting the Department of the Interior to testify on S. 2223, the Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act, which transfers administrative jurisdiction of approximately 200 acres of public land currently managed by the Department’s Bureau of Land Management (BLM) to the Department of Veterans Affairs’ (VA) National Cemetery Administration (NCA) for inclusion in the Black Hills National Cemetery in Meade County, South Dakota.  The Department of the Interior supports S. 2223.

Background
The Black Hills National Cemetery is located three miles southeast of Sturgis, South Dakota, near the Black Hills.  Established in 1948, the cemetery currently encompasses 106 acres and has had over 20,000 interments.  The BLM understands that the NCA would use the additional land provided under S. 2223 to expand the Black Hills National Cemetery to provide burial space for future needs.  The BLM and the NCA have discussed such a transfer for several years, but the BLM has determined that no general authority exists for the agency to grant a perpetual transfer of jurisdiction as required by the NCA for a cemetery.

S. 2223
S. 2223 directs the Secretary of the Interior to transfer administrative jurisdiction of approximately 200 acres of public land to the Secretary of Veterans Affairs to be incorporated into the existing Black Hills National Cemetery, subject to valid existing rights.  The Secretary of Veterans Affairs would be required to pay all survey costs and other reasonable costs associated with the transfer.  The Federal land to be transferred would be withdrawn from all forms of appropriation under the public land laws, including the mining, mineral leasing, and geothermal leasing laws.  Under the bill, should the NCA ever determine that it no longer needs any portion of the additional land, the Secretary of the Interior could restore the unneeded land to the public domain.  The Secretary of Veterans Affairs would be responsible for costs of any decontamination necessary for restoration to public land status.

The Department of the Interior supports S. 2223 and the transfer of administrative jurisdiction.  We note that the expansion area is currently part of the Fort Meade Recreation Area / Area of Critical Environmental Concern (ACEC) and that the Centennial Trail runs along the northern boundary of the expansion area.  We suggest adding bill language to provide a 100-foot setback boundary from the centerline of the trail.  The Administration would also like to work with the sponsor and the Committee to clarify the provisions related to decontamination and restoration of the land to public land status.

Conclusion
Thank you again for the opportunity to testify in support of S. 2223, the Black Hills National Cemetery Boundary Expansion Act.  We appreciate the work of the South Dakota congressional delegation on this legislation, and we look forward to collaborating with them and the Committee to meet the needs of the Black Hills National Cemetery.