STATEMENT OF BRENDA BARRETT, NATIONAL COORDINATOR FOR HERITAGE AREAS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 1809 AND H.R. 1776, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO STUDY THE SUITABILITY AND FEASIBILITY OF ESTABLISHING THE BUFFALO BAYOU NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA IN WEST HOUSTON, TEXAS.

 

APRIL 18, 2002

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Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interiorís views on S. 1809 and H.R. 1776.These bills would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to study the suitability and feasibility of establishing the Buffalo Bayou National Heritage Area in west Houston, Texas.

 

The Department supports the intent of both S. 1809 and H.R. 1776 and we recommend approval of H.R. 1776, as passed by the House of Representatives on October 30, 2001.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 38 studies pending, of which we hope to transmit 15 to Congress by the end of 2002.To meet the Presidentís Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog, we must continue to focus our resources on caring for existing areas in the National Park System.Thus, we have concerns about new funding requirements for a new heritage area that could be required if the study recommends designation while the Department is trying to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog.As such, the Department will identify in each study all acquisition, one-time, and operational costs of the proposed site.At this time, these costs are not known.

 

Both S. 1809 and H.R. 1776 outline the characteristics and qualities of the Buffalo Bayou area in Houston, Texas including the history and role of the Bayou in the creation and development of the city.The bills authorize the Secretary of the Interior to conduct a suitability and feasibility study to determine if the area known as Buffalo Bayou in Houston, Texas could be designated as a national heritage area.S. 1809 and H.R. 1776, as introduced, authorize $200,000 in Fiscal Year 2002 to fund the study, with a report due to Congress describing the results of the study.

 

In a July 17, 2001 hearing, the Department testified that we could support H.R. 1776 if amended to make the bill similar to previous national heritage area study bills.At the subcommittee markup, H.R. 1776 was amended incorporating the Departmentís suggestions.The amendments included providing a more definitive boundary for the area to be studied and inserting a new paragraph in the bill which states that the study include analysis and documentation that the Study Area:

(A) has an assemblage of natural, historic, and cultural resources that together represent distinctive aspects of American heritage worthy of recognition, conservation, interpretation, and continuing use, and are best managed through partnerships among public and private entities and by combining diverse and sometimes noncontiguous resources and active communities;

(B) reflects traditions, customs, beliefs, and folklife that are a valuable part of the national story;

(C) provides outstanding opportunities to conserve natural, historic, cultural, and/or scenic features;

(D) provides outstanding recreational and educational opportunities;

(E) contains resources important to the identified theme or themes of the Study Area that retain a degree of integrity capable of supporting interpretation;

(F) includes residents, business interests, non-profit organizations, and local and state governments who are involved in the planning, have developed a conceptual financial plan that outlines the roles for all participants including the federal government, and have demonstrated support for the concept of a national heritage area;

(G) has a potential management entity to work in partnership with residents, business interests, non-profit organizations, and local and state governments to develop a national heritage area consistent with continued local and state economic activity; and

(H) has a conceptual boundary map that is supported by the public.

 

Again, H.R. 1776, as passed by the House of Representatives, includes the amendments incorporating the Departmentís suggestions; we therefore recommend its approval.

 

The National Park Service has not had extensive involvement in the Houston area.However, the Rivers, Trails and Conservation Assistance Program (RTCA) has worked with the Buffalo Bayou Partnership and other local groups to establish a 5 mile rail-trail that runs parallel to the Bayou.Through that work, and from review of planning documents and activities surrounding the Bayou, it is clear that this area of Houston was central to the creation of the city.The Bayou has now become a focal point for downtown Houston, encouraging its residents to enjoy, use, and appreciate their great resources today as the city continues to renew and define itself.

 

It is also evident that the groups and communities in the Houston area value their heritage and open space and are looking for ways to maintain and enhance these qualities.A study that looks at the natural, cultural, and recreational significance and values of the area could make recommendations on the best method to protect and use these resources while retaining the character of this part of Houston.

 

As we have previously testified, there are several steps we believe should be taken prior to Congress designating a national heritage area to help ensure that the heritage area is successful.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.

 

Previous work in the community demonstrates the commitment to the idea of pursuing a study to look at further protection and preservation options.It is also apparent that there is widespread support for the Buffalo Bayou that will ensure public involvement.†† A critical element of the study will be to evaluate the integrity of the resources and the nationally distinctive character of the region before recommending national heritage area designation.

 

Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks. I would be pleased to answer any questions you or other members of the subcommittee may have.