STATEMENT OF JOHN G. PARSONS, ASSOCIATE REGIONAL DIRECTOR FOR LANDS, RESOURCES AND PLANNING, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION, AND CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL CAPITAL MEMORIAL COMMISSION, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, HISTORIC PRESERVATION AND RECREATION OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES CONCERNING THE STATUS OF MONUMENTS AND MEMORIALS, AND THE NEW POLICIES THAT HAVE BEEN ADOPTED FOR LOCATING NEW COMMEMORATIVE WORKS IN AND AROUND WASHINGTON, DC.
March 23, 2000
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department's view on the process of erecting commemorative works in the Nation's Capital.
On May 21, 1997, the National Park Service testified before this committee on bills proposed to extend legislative authority for previously authorized memorials. As a result of that hearing the committee expressed an interest in an evaluation of how the Commemorative Works Act of 1986 (the Act) is functioning. Pursuant to your request, the three approval bodies established a joint task force to consider the Act. The joint task force concluded that there are some provisions that could be perfected to better meet the needs of memorial sponsor groups and the Federal agencies that manage the lands on which the memorials are to be built. The joint task force will soon submit its legislative proposal for interagency review; once the proposal has been cleared, we will submit draft legislation for the Committee's consideration.
A major tenet of both Pierre L'Enfant's 1791 plan and the 1901 McMillan plan for the Nation's Capital was to provide suitable public spaces for the erection of memorials and monuments that commemorate the significant people and events in our nation's history. Although these plans provided hundreds of locations for national monuments and memorials, in the long term the number of sites are, quite simply, dwindling.
Since 1852, over 150 memorials have been erected in the Nation's Capital, which amounts to approximately one dedication per year. Just since the dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in 1982, we have dedicated 13 memorials and are working on 16 active memorial projects. Two of these are under construction, 10 are authorized and in various stages of approval, and 4 are seeking congressional authorization.
Since the hearing in 1997, the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC) produced a plan for the next 100 years entitled "Extending the Legacy, Planning America's Capital for the 21st Century," which builds on the L'Enfant and McMillan Plans. This plan, which we support, proposes to extend the boundaries of the existing Monumental Core, using the Capitol as the center point and extending in both directions on North and South Capitol Streets. It is designed to protect the open space of the monumental core while expanding opportunities for memorials as well as public and private development as new sections of the city are revitalized. In furtherance of the Legacy Plan, the NCPC, in conjunction with the joint task force, is producing a master plan for memorials and museums.
The most significant outcome of the master plan and task force effort is the delineation of the cross axis of the monumental core as a completed work of civic art upon which no more memorials should be authorized to be placed, with the exception of the World War II Memorial at the Rainbow Pool site.
The Act contains specific criteria for guiding approval of sites and designs of memorials. New memorials must avoid encroachment with existing memorials and must preserve open space and existing public use to the maximum extent practicable.
The Act also created the National Capital Memorial Commission, chaired by the Director of the National Park Service. This 8-member commission has proven to be a valuable asset to assist proponents, the Congress and others concerned with commemorative works early in the process. The NCMC provides a forum for deliberation on subject matter of proposed memorials and has advised the Congress and the Secretary of the Interior as to its conformance with the provisions of the Act. Furthermore, it is the first forum for public discussion of site and design concepts of authorized memorials prior to submission to the three approval bodies. The NCMC is functioning well.
The Act delegated decison-making on the siting and design of memorials to those agencies already legislatively charged with planning and urban design review authority--the Secretary of the Interior, the National Capital Planning Commission and the Commission of Fine Arts. By necessity, the selection of the site for a memorial must precede the design in a two-step process. That is, one cannot design a memorial until the site and its context are known. Experience has shown that each site has limitations on the appropriate size of a memorial.
The site selection and design process is rigorous and, at times, trying for the sponsors undertaking the erection of these memorials. We lend much assistance to the sponsors guiding them through the approval process. All have felt the ultimate product was better for the effort.
One issue of particular concern is the practice of providing extensions of authorizations to memorial sponsors who do not meet the 7-year time period provided for in the Act. As you will recall, some sponsors have had difficulty meeting this deadline and have appealed to Congress for extensions. We would point out that of the 19 memorials authorized since 1986, eight began construction within 7 years and six have required extensions. These six have received extensions of up to 15 years. The intent of the 7-year authorization is to ensure that a sponsor does not hold on to a valuable site for an extended period with no prospect of completing a memorial. If adequate public support for a memorial cannot be found, its authorization should lapse. In all of the extensions given to date, no threshold criteria were required. In one case we had not heard from the sponsor of a memorial for the entire 7-year period since its authorization prior to recent reauthorization. Another has encumbered a special site that has been desired by many others over the past 12 years. Others have conscientiously proceeded through the entire design process and obtained necessary approvals but are simply having difficulty raising the funds needed to construct the memorial. We intend to address this matter in our legislative proposal.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be happy to answer any questions you may have.