May 18, 2000

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 1584, to establish the Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area in the State of Pennsylvania. The heritage area would be located along the Schuylkill River in the southeastern counties of Schuylkill, Berks, Montgomery, Chester, and Philadelphia, with boundaries delineated by the Secretary of the Interior.

The Department supports this legislation, if amended as recommended by this testimony, especially with respect to the bill’s loan authority.

S. 1584 would establish the Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area, providing the formal legislative charter for a national heritage area that has been a state heritage corridor since 1995. The bill names the Schuylkill River Greenway Association as the management entity for the heritage area, and provides for the Secretary of the Interior and the management entity to carry out the provisions of the bill through use of a cooperative agreement.

S. 1584 requires the management entity to develop and submit a management plan to the Secretary within three years after the date of enactment, allowing the use of an updated version of the 1995 Schuylkill River Heritage Corridor Management Action Plan in lieu of an original plan. If the plan is not submitted within three years, the heritage area would lose eligibility for Federal funding until the plan is received.

The bill also provides authority for the management entity to make loans and grants and to pay staff. And, it authorizes total appropriations of $10,000,000, of which not more than $1,000,000 may be appropriated for any fiscal year, and requires a 50 percent non-Federal match. The bill also provides that the Secretary’s authority to provide assistance to the heritage area terminate 15 years after the date of enactment. These limits are consistent with other legislation to establish national heritage areas that Congress has passed in recent years.

The Schuylkill River Valley is rich in natural and cultural resources that reflect our nation’s history and the region’s industrial and agricultural heritage. The area played a role in the American Revolution, and was the center of early charcoal iron industries that helped foster Pennsylvania’s strong iron industry. It was also the location of early transportation systems, including the Schuylkill Canal and the Reading Railroad. The region has exhibited a longstanding commitment to reversing environmental degradation to the river and completing recreational programs and projects that encourage appreciation of the natural resources of the Schuylkill River Valley.

Heritage areas are places where natural, cultural, historic, and recreational resources combine to form a nationally distinctive landscape arising from patterns of human activity shaped by geography. Heritage conservation efforts are grounded in a community’s pride in its history and traditions, and its interest in seeing them retained. The areas are designed to protect large, regional landscapes and resources that tell the story of its residents. They are best managed by entities with broad community representation and the ability to foster partnerships throughout the region. The Schuylkill River Valley has the characteristics necessary to be established as a national heritage area and the potential to meet the expectations of the National Park Service’s national heritage area program.

The National Park Service testified before the House Subcommittee on National Parks and Public Lands last year on H.R. 2532, a bill that would provide a process for establishing national heritage areas. In our testimony, we outlined four critical steps that we believe need to be completed before Congress establishes a national heritage area. Those steps are:

    1. completion of a suitability/feasibility study;
    2. public involvement in the suitability/feasibility study;
    3. demonstration of widespread public support among heritage area residents for the proposed designation; and
    4. commitment to the proposal from the appropriate players which may include governments, industry, and private, non-profit organizations, in addition to the local citizenry.

In the case of the proposed Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area, we believe the general intent and the spirit of those steps have been fulfilled through the work that was done by the State of Pennsylvania and other entities, including the National Park Service, to lay the groundwork for state designation of the Schuylkill River Heritage Corridor in 1995. That work included a feasibility study for the heritage corridor that was issued in 1992. The work that has been done by the Schuylkill River Greenway Association and others in recent years has served to confirm our view that this area is well-suited to be established as a national heritage area.

While we support enacting legislation to establish the Schuylkill River Valley National Heritage Area, we recommend several changes to S. 1584 as introduced. These proposed amendments are attached to this testimony.

First, we object to the authority in section 6(a)(1) for the management entity to use Federal funds to make loans to various entities. No criteria or administrative guidelines have been developed for heritage areas to ensure that the taxpayers’ funds are being used properly. For management entities with limited administrative resources, it would be an administrative burden to set up payment schedules, underwriting, and loan servicing sufficient to provide confidence that a loan program is using Federal funds in an accountable manner. We believe there are more effective ways for management entities to use limited Federal funds than creating loan programs.

Section 6(b)(6) contains a reporting requirement for loans and grants made by the management entity. In conjunction with removing authority for making loans, we recommend that the reporting requirement for loans be dropped as well.

Second, we recommend amending section 7(b), which establishes the process for approval of the management plans, to require the Secretary to consider whether the composition of the management entity—the Schuylkill River Greenway Association—and the management plan adequately reflect diverse interests of the region. While we recognize that the Association has been responsible for much of the progress made to date in the conservation of resources in the Schuylkill River Valley, we think that in order to make this heritage area a truly successful undertaking, it should be grounded in the broadest community support possible. Including local elected officials, the State, business and industry groups, organizations interested in the protection of natural and cultural resources, and other community organizations and individual stakeholders in the management entity will help ensure that all of the diverse interests in the region are fully considered during the planning process.

In addition, in section 7(c)(1), we recommend that the Secretary be required to approve substantial amendments to the management plan, not just review them, as the bill currently provides.

Mr. Chairman, that concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the Subcommittee may have.

Amendments to S. 1584, Schuylkill National Heritage Area

Proposed by the National Park Service


Page 8, line 22, strike "loans and".

Page 11, line 6, strike "loan or".

Page 13, after line 13, insert the following:

"(2) MANAGEMENT PLAN CONTENTS.-In reviewing the plan, the Secretary shall consider whether the composition of the management entity and the plan adequately reflect diverse interests of the region, including those of--

"(i) local elected officials,

"(ii) the State,

"(iii) business and industry groups,

"(iv) organizations interested in the protection of natural and cultural resources, and

"(v) other community organizations and individual stakeholders."

Page 13, line 14, renumber "(2)" as "(3)".

Page 14, line 4, insert "and approve" following "review".