STATEMENT OF JACQUELINE LOWEY, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING S. 2512, A BILL TO CONVEY CERTAIN FEDERAL PROPERTIES ON GOVERNORS ISLAND, NEW YORK.
JUNE 29, 2000
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before the subcommittee to present the Department of the Interior's views on S. 2512, a bill to convey certain Federal properties on Governors Island in New York City. We defer to the General Services Administration on those aspects of the legislation dealing with the conveyance of the majority of Governors Island to the State of New York. On those aspects of the legislation pertaining to the National Park Service, we support enactment of this legislation if amended to address concerns outlined in this testimony.
Governors Island is a 172-acre island located in a spectacular position in the heart of New York Harbor, just off the southern tip of Manhattan. Much of the significance of this site is because of its location. The view from Governors Island of Lower Manhattan, of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge, of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are extraordinary. This site conveys a sense of the entire force and expanse of Greater New York and New Jersey.
The Dutch settled the island as early as 1624, and afterward it was used for emergency housing for Protestant settlers from the Palatinate, and subsequently set aside by the governor as an early game reserve. In 1776, General George Washington established a battery there, along with batteries at other key locations in New York Harbor. Of obvious critical strategic significance to the defense of New York in the Revolutionary War and in the War of 1812, Governors Island later played an important role in the Civil War, World War I and World War II. The United States Army occupied the island until 1966. At that time it became the base of operations for the Coast Guard's Atlantic Area Command and Maintenance and Logistics Command, Atlantic. In 1997 the Coast Guard ceased operations on Governors Island.
Over the years Governors Island served as a backdrop for many history-making events, including the relighting of the Statue of Liberty in 1986, the U.S.-U.S.S.R. summit in 1988, and United Nations sponsored talks to restore democratic rule to Haiti in 1993.
S. 2512, the "Governors Island Preservation Act of 2000," would do two things. First, it would establish a new unit of the National Park System to be known as Governors Island National Monument. The national monument would consist of two historic forts, Fort Jay and Castle Williams, and the land between the two forts. This area would remain Federal property, and administrative jurisdiction would be transferred to the Secretary of the Interior 180 days after enactment of this Act.
Second, the bill would convey, notwithstanding Section 9101 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the remainder of the island to the State of New York for no consideration. The Governors Island Redevelopment Corporation, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, would administer the land conveyed to the State of New York. The conveyance would be subject to various terms and conditions imposed through the Act as well as other federal laws.
Castle Williams and Fort Jay, the dominant features of the proposed Governors Island National Monument, are contributing features within the larger Governors Island National Historic Landmark District. The National Historic Landmark District was designated by the Secretary of the Interior in 1985. Fort Jay and Castle Williams were erected over a fifteen-year period (c. 1796-1811) as part of the First and Second American Systems of Coastal Fortification. Both retain a high degree of historical integrity and offer an excellent look at the two major types of defense structures built and in use from the Renaissance to the Civil War.
Fort Jay, a classic, four-bastion fortification, was first constructed in the 1790's and later rebuilt in masonry and expanded between 1806-09. A distinctive feature of the fort is the quadrangle of colonnaded Greek Revival-style barracks that was built on the interior in the 1830s. Fort Jay represents the end of a three hundred-year tradition of bastion fortifications. Its low-profile design was intended to present as little wall as possible to enemy fire. The predominantly open landscape around the fort is a key element to the fort's significance because it retains a sense of how the fort appeared when originally constructed. Fort Jay has been well maintained and is one of the best examples of its kind in the country.
Castle Williams, built between 1807 and 1811, was the prototype in this country for a harbor-oriented defense that could present as much concentrated firepower as possible. In stark contrast to Fort Jay, the walls of Castle Williams are high and fully exposed, a form reminiscent of a medieval castle. The exterior of Castle Williams is unchanged, but its interior contains extensive modifications associated with its later use as an army prison. Its integrity as a fortification remains high and its solid eight-foot thick masonry walls rendered it virtually indestructible. Castle Williams is considered by certain scholars to be the finest and most important example of its type in American coastal fortifications.
These fortifications were designed as an integral part of a system of harbor defenses that eventually extended twenty miles out to Forts Hancock, Tilden and Lewis at the opening to the bay and Lower New York Harbor. In the early 19th century, Forts Hamilton, Thompkins, and Wadsworth at the Verrazano Narrows defended the entrance to the inner harbor from the south while Forts Totten and Schuyler were intended to defend the northern entrance from Long Island Sound. Castle Williams and its counterpart on Manhattan, Castle Clinton, offered the primary firepower in defending the inner harbor. Eventually, these fortifications were overshadowed by later installations further out as the range of guns increased. While the individual defensive structures of the New York harbor system have intrinsic merit, it is their relationship to one another, both geographically and temporally, that is most significant.
The National Park Service manages a majority of these decommissioned military installations and fortifications, including Castle Clinton on the southern tip of Manhattan and Fort Wood on Liberty Island, now the base of the Statue of Liberty. Gateway National Recreation Area includes key portions of Fort Wadsworth at the Verrazano Narrows and Forts Tilden and Hancock at the entrance to New York Harbor. The fortifications on Governors Island were an integral component of this network and historically were the geographic and administrative center of New York Harbor's defenses.
The subcommittee is aware that Governors Island was included on the February 11, 2000, list that was submitted to Congress of areas recommended for study for potential inclusion to the National Park System. This list was prepared in compliance with Section 303 of the National Parks Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (Omnibus Act). While a special resources study has not been prepared, a significant amount of work has been accomplished that examines a number of the issues found in such a study. The General Services Administration (GSA) completed a land use study and conducted a comprehensive public review, and there was widespread public testimony favoring park establishment and preservation of historic resources. GSA also completed an environmental impact statement. The National Park Service undertook a reconnaissance study in 1996, as a situation report and a review of alternatives, but without public or policy review. That study indicated that the resources of the island had the necessary significance and suitability to support a recommendation for inclusion in the National Park System. However, in considering National Park Service operation of the entire island, or even the national historic landmark district, the study concluded that it was not feasible to add Governors Island to the National Park System. The issue of establishing a smaller national monument, as proposed in S. 2512, was not addressed in the 1996 report. However, establishing a national monument comprised of the two main contributing features of the Governors Island National Historic Landmark District would satisfactorily address the feasibility issue.
With the issue of resolving the disposition of Governors Island before the committee, we can complete the requirements for the study in relatively short order. The bill before us requires the transfer of administrative jurisdiction from GSA to the National Park Service within 180 days of enactment. Since the GSA study and the NPS reconnaissance study constitute much of what is needed toward meeting the study requirement, the Park Service could utilize the 180 day period to clarify issues such as development costs, operational costs, and partnership needs. We recommend the bill be amended to provide for the establishment of Governors Island National Monument upon a finding by the Secretary that the criteria of significance, suitability and feasibility have been satisfied.
The more significant aspect of S. 2512 is the conveyance of the majority of Governors Island to the State of New York. The State would have the primary responsibility for the island's redevelopment, operation and maintenance. We defer to the General Services Administration on those aspects of this legislation. We would like to bring to the Subcommittee's attention, however, that the U.S. Coast Guard maintains aids to navigation (i.e, land-based lights) on Governors Island and on the ferry piers, and recommends that the bill be amended to specifically reserve easements to allow continued Coast Guard access for maintenance and operational purposes.
We also believe that it is appropriate for the National Park Service to play a role in the interpretation of the larger Governors Island National Historic Landmark District. For more than 200 years Governors Island has been closed to the public. The plan that the State of New York is proposing will open the island for public use and enjoyment. Governors Island's history is not just that of the defenses of New York but of the development of our nation. The National Park Service is charged with protecting and interpreting our nation's heritage for the American people. As Governors Island becomes available to the American people it is appropriate that the island's history and heritage are interpreted and preserved and that the National Park Service play a role in telling its history. We recommend an amendment that authorizes the NPS to mark and provide appropriate interpretive services in the larger Governors Island National Historic Landmark District.
As stated previously we have some minor concerns with certain elements of the bill. Section 4 establishes the Governors Island National Monument. In Section 4(b) the composition of the national monument is discussed and includes a map reference. We are in the process of finalizing the map. The description of the monument basically includes the fortifications and the land between them. The National Park Service has a need for another structure or structures that would provide for administrative and support facilities. We recommend amending the bill to authorize the National Park Service to enter into an agreement with the State of New York to accept, at no cost to the NPS, appropriate facilities within close proximity, that would support the mission of the national monument. We also recommend that the cooperative agreement language be broadened to authorize the NPS to enter into agreements with the corporation as well as other interested entities and individuals to provide for the preservation and interpretation of the monument. Finally, the Department of Transportation recommends that section 4(d)(1) be amended to authorize the reservation of easements for the Secretary to Monument and the Commandant of the U.S. Coast Guard to operate and maintain navigation aids.
Governors Island is a national treasure and its disposition should be carefully considered. S. 2512, if amended to address our concerns, would provide the National Park Service the authority and resources to work with the State of New York to ensure that the island remains a treasure for all the American people. We would be pleased to work with the subcommittee on recommended language.
This completes my statement, I will be happy to answer any questions the committee may have regarding this matter.