STATEMENT OF TERREL EMMONS, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR FOR PROFESSIONAL SERVICES, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS AND PUBLIC LANDS OF THE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, UNITED STATES HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES, CONCERNING H.R. 2557, TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A FEASIBILITY STUDY ON THE INCLUSION OF THE MIAMI CIRCLE IN BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK.

MARCH 14, 2000


Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on H.R. 2557, to direct the Secretary to conduct a feasibility study on the inclusion of the archeological site known as Miami Circle in Biscayne National Park.

The Department supports H.R. 2557 with the amendments outlined in our testimony.

The Miami Circle is an archeological site in downtown Miami that was discovered in 1998 during the pre-construction survey for a condominium building. The site is located at the mouth of the Miami River, about six miles from the northern boundary of Biscayne National Park. It consists of a circle measuring 38 feet in diameter cut into the limestone bedrock with approximately 20 irregular basins, several hundred smaller "postholes," a carving resembling an eye, and several possible astronomical alignments. Also present are several offerings, including two axes manufactured out of basaltic stone--not native to Florida--and shark and sea turtle skeletons.

A site survey by the Florida Bureau of Archeological Research completed in November, 1999 confirmed that the Miami Circle is a Tequesta Indian site approximately 2,000 years old. The Tequesta Indians were one of the earliest groups to establish permanent villages in southeast Florida. They developed a culture and subsistence that was highly successful. By exploiting the rich marine and coastal environment along Biscayne Bay, the Tequesta developed a complex social chiefdom without an agricultural base. The Miami Circle site might have served as the center of religious, trading and political activity for this culture.

The archeological survey also determined that the Miami Circle is part of a larger complex of prehistoric archeological features on the 2.2 acre parcel, and part of a Tequesta village that occupied both sides of the Miami River. The Miami Circle is now often referred to as the Brickell Point Project (State site 8DA12) to acknowledge the archeological value of the entire 2.2-acre site, not just the circle.

Over the last year, the State of Florida, Miami-Dade County, and many interested organizations and individuals combined efforts to prevent the Miami Circle property from being developed. In November, the State of Florida purchased the site for $26.7 million with funding provided by the state’s Conservation and Recreation Lands program, Miami-Dade County’s Safe Neighborhood Parks Bond funds, private contributions, and a loan from the Trust for Public Land. The Florida State Division of Historical Resources is working closely with the Division of State Lands and Miami-Dade County to develop a management plan for the property.

However, the question of how the site can best be managed over the long term, and by whom, remains open. Interest in the possibility of National Park Service management of the site spurred Representative Carrie Meek and Senator Bob Graham to introduce legislation last year to study the possibility of adding the Miami Circle to Biscayne National Park. The Senate passed an amended version of S. 762, the bill introduced by Senator Graham, in October.

Mr. Chairman, H.R. 2557 directs the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a feasibility study to determine whether the Miami Circle should be included in Biscayne National Park. We support conducting a study, but we would like be able to examine and analyze a range of alternatives for protecting, managing, and interpreting the site, just as we would do if we were studying any other area for potential addition to the National Park System.

Although Biscayne National Park was established primarily for the protection of its wealth of natural resources, the park is fortunate to have several well-preserved Tequesta sites within its boundaries, seven of which are eligible for the National Register of Historic Places. The addition of the Miami Circle to Biscayne would likely enhance the park's ability to interpret the Tequesta culture. However, because the Miami Circle is some distance from the park (about a 20-mile drive from park headquarters), adding this site to the park would pose a new set of management challenges for the National Park Service. Therefore, it would be prudent to study other possibilities for the site’s protection as well.

Broadening the study would also make it consistent with the requirements for studying new areas to be added to the National Park System that are specified in Section 303 of the National Park System Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (P.L. 105-391). As you know, this law requires reports on these studies to consider whether the area under study possesses nationally significant natural or cultural resources and represents one of the most important examples of a particular resource type in the country, and is a suitable and feasible addition to the system.

We recommend the following changes to H.R. 2557:

First, we suggest amending Section 1(a) to eliminate the sixth finding that says, in part, that "the Miami Circle is a national resource appropriate for preservation and protection as part of the National Park System". Such a judgment should be determined by the study, not by the legislation authorizing the study.

Second, to conform the terms of the study to those the National Park Service uses to study other potential new areas of the National Park System, we recommend amending Section 1(b) to refer to the study as a "special resource study," and to specifically state that that the study should determine the "national significance, suitability and feasibility" of adding the Miami Circle to the National Park System. In addition, we would urge that the report to Congress in Section 1(d) be required within three fiscal years after funds are first made available for the study, as is the standard timing for such studies.

We also believe that this study should be conducted with the full cooperation and consultation of appropriate American Indian tribes and other interested groups and organizations. Their input in determining the disposition of the site would be invaluable and would avoid potential misinterpretation of the study’s purpose and findings. Therefore, we recommend that a new sentence be inserted that reads: "In conducting the study, the Secretary shall consult with the appropriate American Indian tribes and other interested groups and organizations."

By adopting the above changes, Congress would ensure that H.R. 2557 would enable the National Park Service to recommend the most appropriate means of protecting and managing the Miami Circle.

This concludes my statement, Mr. Chairman. I would be pleased to respond to questions from you or other committee members.