Policy Update Feb 28, 2018

Position on H.R. 1992, H.R. 3008, H.R. 4731, and H.R. 5005

NPCA submitted the following positions to the House Committee on Natural Resources Subcommittee on Federal Lands ahead of a hearing scheduled for February 28, 2018.

H.R. 1992: Camp Nelson Heritage Park Study Act - Constructed by nearly 3,000 formerly enslaved African Americans and meant originally to serve as a Union supply depot during the Civil War, Camp Nelson became a training base for United States Colored Troops. Roughly 10,000 African Americans were trained at Camp Nelson and many went on to serve with the 5th and 6th U.S. Colored Cavalry regiments and the 114thand 116th Colored Heavy Artillery Regiments. NPCA supports this legislation which will determine the suitability and feasibility of commemorating the important stories and resources associated with Camp Nelson, regarded by many of the men and women who lived, worked and trained for war at the site as “Freedom’s Cradle.”

H.R. 3008: George W. Bush Childhood Home Study Act - NPCA supports this legislation to conduct a special resource study. This is the first step for the Department of the Interior to determine the feasibility and suitability of the George W. Bush Childhood Home as the best site to commemorate the legacy of an historic American family with two presidents, two governors and two first ladies.

H.R. 4731: To extend the retained use estate for the Caneel Bay resort in St. John, United States Virgin Islands, and for other purposes - NPCA opposes this legislation to significantly expand Retained Use Estate (RUE) agreement for an additional 60 years to a private owner at Virgin Islands National Park. Virgin Islands was established in 1956 as a unit of the National Park System through the donation of approximately 5000 acres from Laurence Rockefeller. At the time, 170 acres was retained privately for the bill’s namesake, the Caneel Bay Resort. However, in 1983 the land under the resort was donated to the National Park Service (NPS) and a RUE was created to retain the private resort, but with the date certain to transfer the buildings and site to NPS in 2023. In 2010, Caneel Bay was renegotiated in good faith under Public Law 11-261. This bill negotiated additional options for NPS, including provisions to allow the Department of Interior the opportunity to review the facilities to remain under the existing RUE or reconsider the site for a typical NPS concessions agreement. A draft Environmental Assessment (EA), based on the 2010 legislative directive, ultimately determined, quite simply, that “(T)here is a risk of damaging resources at the resort since NPS would not be involved in the management of the resort before the expiration of the RUE. The RUE owner could undertake construction or other actions that may result in resource damage or loss.” H.R. 4731 simply nullifies the well-negotiated Public Law 11-261 in order to accommodate the sole private interests of CBI Aquisitions, LLC, the owner of the RUE since 2004, and prioritizes the interests of the resort guests, not necessarily park resources. This bill risks resource damage and would not only counter the advice of the managing agency for the safekeeping of the national park, but the intentions of the park champion and founder, Mr. Rockefeller whose interest was in the long-term health of Virgin Islands National Park. As directed in 1956 and 2010, the Caneel Bay Resort should be restored and managed a manner in keeping with the ecological, cultural, and historical integrity of the Virgin Islands National Park. In addition, if the RUE were to be reevaluated, as was recommended in the 2013 draft EA, the likely financial return to the park would be far greater than the meager 1.2 percent (which is potentially vulnerable to deductions based on needed repairs or other “adjustments”) of gross revenues at the resort, as proposed in H.R. 4731. Finally, concessionaire contracts, the most common type of agreement for facilities like the Caneel Bay Resort in national parks, which utilize their remarkable park locales for excellent fiscal returns, undergo a competitive bidding process and are frequently required to provide NPS with a percentage significantly higher than 1.2 percent.

H.R. 5005: To direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to determine the suitability and feasibility of establishing the birthplace of James Weldon Johnson in Jacksonville, Florida, as a unit of the National Park System - James Weldon Johnson was a poet, author, lawyer, song-writer and civil rights activist. In 1900, Johnson penned the lyrics to the song “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” which soon became known as the Negro National Anthem. In 1920, he was chosen to be the first African American executive secretary for the NAACP. NPCA supports this legislation to conduct a special resource study of the James Weldon Johnson birthplace in Jacksonville, Florida, the first critical step in determining the most appropriate way of commemorating the life and legacy of this extraordinary American.