STATEMENT OF DURAND JONES, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, CONCERNING S. 1894, TO DIRECT THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO CONDUCT A SPECIAL RESOURCE STUDY TO DETERMINE THE NATIONAL SIGNIFICANCE OF THE MIAMI CIRCLE SITE IN THE STATE OF FLORIDA AS WELL AS THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF ITS INCLUSION IN THE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM AS PART OF BISCAYNE NATIONAL PARK

 

FEBRUARY 14, 2002

 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s views on S. 1894, to direct the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to determine the national significance of the Miami Circle site in the State of Florida as well as the suitability and feasibility of its inclusion in the National Park System as part of Biscayne National Park. 

 

The Department supports this bill, with an amendment.  However, the Department did not request additional funding for this study in Fiscal Year 2003.  We believe that any funding requested should be directed towards completing previously authorized studies.  Presently, there are 40 studies pending, of which we hope to transmit 15 to Congress by the end of 2002.  One concern with authorizing additional studies is that it raises public expectations for establishing new park units, national trails, wild and scenic rivers, or heritage areas.  We cannot afford to continue adding so many new funding requirements at the same time that we are trying to work down the deferred maintenance backlog at existing parks.  To estimate these potential new funding requirements, the Administration will identify in each study all of the costs to establish, operate, and maintain the proposed site.

 

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 seven 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), shark and sea turtle skeletons, and the skull of a bottle-nose dolphin, which bolsters the theory that this was a ceremonial site.  This is the first bottlenose dolphin uncovered at an excavation in North America outside the Pacific Northwest. 

 

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 using 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 to acknowledge the archeological value of the entire 2.2-acre site, not just the circle.

 

Once this site was discovered, 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, 1999, 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 has been 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, has not yet been resolved.  Interest in the possibility of National Park Service management of the site spurred the introduction of feasibility study legislation similar to S. 1894 in the 106th Congress in both the Senate and the House of Representatives. Florida Governor Jeb Bush supported the legislation. The Senate passed the legislation in October, 1999, but the House of Representatives did not vote on it.   

 

S. 1894 directs the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a special resource study to determine whether the Miami Circle site is nationally significant as well as suitable and feasible for addition to the National Park System and, specifically, for addition to Biscayne National Park.  As is standard for special resource studies, it would examine not only the option of adding the site to the National Park System but also other alternatives for protecting, managing, and interpreting the site.

 

Although Biscayne National Park was established primarily for the protection of its wealth of natural resources, the park is fortunate to have seven well-preserved Tequesta sites within its boundaries, all of which may be 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.  And, it would give the park a presence in Miami, which is something that numerous community members have indicated support for in the park’s general management planning process.  However, there may be other alternatives which could effectively achieve the protection of this resource, so it would be prudent to study other management possibilities as well.

 

The legislation is consistent with the requirements for special resource studies under Title III of the National Park System Omnibus Management Act of 1998 (Public Law 105-391), except for the time allotted for completion of the study.  S. 1894 requires the Secretary of the Interior to conduct the study not later than one year after the date funds are made available, and to submit the study to the appropriate committees of Congress within 30 days of completion of the study.  Public Law 105-391 provides for studies to be completed within three fiscal years after funds are first made available for the study.  Although it is possible that the study could be completed in fewer than three years, we recommend amending S. 1894 to provide for three years to complete the study, consistent with Public Law 105-391, to ensure that there is a sufficient amount of time for public involvement and for thorough consideration of the various alternatives for management of the site.

 

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