STATEMENT OF KATHERINE H. STEVENSON, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, CULTURAL RESOURCES STEWARDSHIP AND PARTNERSHIPS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION, AND RECREATION, REGARDING S. 2511, A BILL TO ESTABLISH THE KENAI MOUNTAINS-TURNAGAIN ARM NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA IN THE STATE OF ALASKA.

 

MAY 18, 2000


Thank you for the opportunity to present the position of the Department of the Interior on S. 2511, a bill to establish the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Corridor Area in the State of Alaska.

The Administration believes that the designation of the Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm area of Alaska as a National Heritage Area (NHA) would recognize the nationally distinctive history of the region and, therefore, supports the purpose of S. 2511. The Administration, however, must oppose S. 2511, as currently drafted, but would support the bill if amended to:

* Exclude National Forest lands from the proposed National Heritage Area. Typically, National Heritage Areas consist of non-federal lands; where federal lands are included in an NHAs, they do not constitute the overwhelming majority of acreage in the NHA. NHAs are intended primarily to help communities take the initiative themselves to protect and interpret cultural and historic resources on non-federal lands. The appropriate vehicle for managing National Forest lands is the forest land management plan, which relies on public participation and incorporates the interests of the general community.

* Vest the responsibility for providing technical assistance to the management entity and approval of the management plan for the NHA with the Secretary of Agriculture. To the extent that the management entity may wish to draw upon the expertise of the National Park Service, we recommend that the bill be amended to authorize National Park Service, in consultation with the Secretary of Agriculture, to provide such assistance.

* Provide explicitly that, where the management entity's plan conflicts with the management plan for the National Forest lands, the latter document controls. To the extent that a non-federal management entity wishes to invest in projects on federal lands, the conditions for their participation should be consistent with the terms and conditions set forth in section 323 of the FY 1999 Interior and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

 

Consistent with the bottom-up approach common to NHA planning, the Administration believes that the affected local communities, not the Federal Government, should determine the membership of the management entity. Nonetheless, membership should reflect all the interests of the community -- including environmental interests and, specifically, the interests of Native Alaskans. The Administration, therefore, recommends deleting the provisions regarding secretarial appointment of management entity representatives and replacing it with standard language requiring a locally-developed management entity to enter into a compact with the Secretary. Management entities are supposed to arise from broad-based community interest and not be top-down designations. It is expected, however, that any management entity would be representative of all local groups, including Native Alaskans.

In addition, we recommend that section 7(b) be revised to make the provision of assistance discretionary, rather than mandatory, and to exclude assistance for administrative, financial, or operations. Although we recognize the need to provide assistance, and intend to do so to the extent possible, there are certain functions that should remain the responsibility of the management entity. Grants funds, rather than agency appropriations, should be available to address basic operational responsibilities.

Finally, we recommend maintaining the 50 percent matching requirement, which is a common requirement in all other Heritage Areas. Keeping Heritage Areas as locally driven entities is a fundamental principle, but that would be difficult to maintain if the Federal Government provided a majority of funding.

Congress has already acknowledged the significance of parts of this region by establishing the Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Seward Highway National Scenic Byway. The heritage area designation wraps these routes into the whole picture of human history in the wider transportation corridor. This heritage area features mountain passes leading into southcentral and interior Alaska, including early native trade routes, waterway connections across the treacherous Turnagain Arm, the Alaska Railroad and numerous mining trails. Heritage area designation under this bill will greatly enhance our understanding of travel and resource development in the last frontier.

A National Heritage Area is defined as a place where natural, cultural, historic and recreational resources combine to form a nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community's pride in its history and traditions, and its interest in seeing them retained. Preserving the integrity of the cultural landscape and local stories means that future generations in communities will be able to understand and define who they are, where they come from, and what ties them to their home. Heritage areas do not require federal ownership of property, but do rely on cooperation and technical assistance from the federal government.

As we have testified before to Congress, there are several steps that should be completed prior to the designation of a heritage area. The four main steps are that the proposal should have a completed suitability/feasibility study; early and frequent public involvement; a demonstration of wide public support and feasibility to implement the project in communities; and commitments from potential partners to support the project.

We believe S. 2511, if amended as the administration proposes, can meet a large portion of the intent and spirit of these steps.

Although a technical suitability/feasibility study has not been done of this area, many of the themes and the areas within this corridor have been extensively studied. The Iditarod National Historic Trail and the Seward Highway National Scenic Byway are important parts of this Corridor, and both were the subject of recent studies that found that the Iditarod Trail and the Seward Highway were nationally significant. To satisfy the technical requirement of a study in this case, we suggest language be added to the bill that would require a suitability and feasibility analysis to take place in the planning process for this area.

In Alaska, the energy and support this proposal has engendered bear witness to not only the fulfillment of the steps outlined above, but to the inspirational quality of the land and its history. More than 24 local and statewide organizations have written to express their support. The small communities within the proposed heritage area support the proposal. Local governments – including the Kenai Peninsula Borough and the Seward City Council – have supported the plan. Statewide visitor organizations, such as the Alaska Visitors Association and the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association have supported the heritage area proposal, as have the Kenai Peninsula Historical Association and the State Historical Commission.

By passage of this bill, Congress will respond to this grassroots support and will give the small communities on the Kenai Peninsula within the heritage area new motivation and means to work together to present the story of their historic region and to interpret and share this part of America’s heritage. The heritage area model is working well in many areas in the East – in the Rivers of Steel Heritage Area in Pittsburgh, in the Blackstone River Valley, and in the Hudson Valley. The Kenai Mountains-Turnagain Arm National Heritage Area will be the first in this area, but will follow the model of success seen in other areas.

In summary, the goals of this bill are compatible with the mission of National Heritage Areas elsewhere, there is the requisite local support and commitment to success, and the historic, cultural and natural resources of the area are of national significance. We urge the Committee to adopt the amendments proposed by the Administration and pass the bill at the earliest opportunity.

This concludes my testimony. I would be happy to answer any of your questions.