STATEMENT OF DENIS P. GALVIN, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, UNITED STATES SENATE, CONCERNING S. 689, TO CONVEY CERTAIN PROPERTIES ON GOVERNORS ISLAND, NEW YORK.
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 689, a bill to convey certain properties on Governors Island, New York.
The Department supports Section 4 of S. 689, regarding the conveyance of a portion of Governors Island to the National Park Service, but defers to the General Services Administration’s comments on Section 5 regarding the conveyance of the majority of Governors Island to the State of New York.
S. 689, the “Governors Island Preservation Act of 2001” would do two things. First, Section 4 clarifies the status of a 20-acre portion of the Island, which has been designated a national monument, by transferring permanent administrative jurisdiction of this parcel to the Secretary of the Interior and by stating it is not subject to the sale requirements of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.
Second, Section 5 would convey, notwithstanding Section 9101 of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997, the remainder of the island to the State of New York for no consideration. The Governors Island Redevelopment Corporation, a subsidiary of the Empire State Development Corporation, would administer the land conveyed to the State of New York. The conveyance would be subject to various terms and conditions imposed through the Act as well as other Federal laws.
Governors Island is a 172-acre island located in a spectacular position in the heart of the New York Harbor, just off the southern tip of Manhattan. Much of the significance of the site is because of its location. The view from Governors Island of Lower Manhattan, of Brooklyn and the Brooklyn Bridge, and of the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island are extraordinary. This site conveys as no other place does a sense of the entire force and expanse of Greater New York and New Jersey. It is the gateway to the commercial capital of the United States.
The island’s recorded history spans 400 years, beginning with its use as a fishing camp for the Manahatas Indians, as an estate for Dutch Governors of New Netherlands, as a lumber stand, pasture for raising cattle and goats, quarantine island, and game preserve.
By the late 1600s, fortification of New York Harbor was urged by the colony’s English rulers, and Governors Island was considered a key strategic point.
In 1776, General George Washington, recognizing its strategic value, established a battery there, along with batteries at other key locations in New York Harbor. Of obvious critical strategic significance to the defense of New York in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812, Governors Island later played an important role in the Civil War and World War I and II. The United States Army occupied the island until 1966. At that time it became the base of operations for the U.S. Coast Guard’s Atlantic Area Command and Maintenance and Logistics Command, Atlantic. In 1997 the U.S. Coast Guard ceased operations on Governors Island. On January 19, 2001, former President Clinton established the Governors Island National Monument by Presidential Proclamation. The 20-acre monument includes two historic forts, Castle Williams and Fort Jay.
Castle Williams and Fort Jay, the dominant features of the Governors Island National Monument, are individually listed on the National Register of Historic Places, are New York City Landmarks, and are contributing features within the larger Governors Island National Historic Landmark District. Fort Jay and Castle Williams were erected over a fifteen-year period (c. 1796-1811) as part of the First and Second American Systems of Coastal Fortification. Both retain a high degree of historical integrity and represent the two major types of defense structures built and in use from the Renaissance Period to the Civil War.
Fort Jay, a classic, four-bastioned fortification, was first constructed in the 1790’s and later rebuilt in masonry and expanded between 1806-09. A distinctive feature of the fort is the quadrangle of colonnaded Greek Revival-style barracks that was built on the interior in the 1830s. Fort Jay represents the end of a three hundred-year tradition of bastion fortifications. Its low-profile design was intended to present as little wall as possible to enemy fire. The predominantly open landscape around the fort is a key element to the fort’s significance because it retains a sense of how the fort appeared when originally constructed. Fort Jay has been well maintained and is one of the best examples of its kind in the country.
Castle Williams, built between 1807 and 1811, was the prototype in this country for a harbor-oriented defense that could present as much concentrated firepower as possible. In stark contrast to Fort Jay, the walls of Castle Williams are high and fully exposed, a form reminiscent of a medieval castle. The exterior of Castle Williams is unchanged, but its interior contains extensive modifications associated with its later use as an army prison. Its integrity as a fortification remains high and its solid eight-foot thick masonry walls rendered it virtually indestructible. Castle Williams is considered by certain scholars to be the finest and most important example of its type in American coastal fortifications.
The National Park Service manages a majority of decommissioned military installations and fortifications, including Castle Clinton on the southern tip of Manhattan and Fort Wood on Liberty Island, now the base of the Statue of Liberty. Gateway National Recreation Area includes key portions of Fort Wadsworth at the Verrazano Narrows and Forts Tilden and Hancock at the entrance to New York Harbor. The fortifications on Governors Island were an integral component of this network and historically were the geographic and administrative center of New York Harbor’s defenses.
Over the past several years, the U.S. Coast Guard and General Services Administration (GSA) have developed several valuable inventories, reports, and plans for Governors Island, and have conducted an extensive public review of the future use of the island. These documents include the “Governors Island Preservation and Design Manual,” a land use study, including comprehensive land and facility assessment, an environment impact statement, archaeological assessment, and other important information needed for the future planning and management of the monument and island. During GSA’s public review period, there was widespread public testimony favoring park establishment and preservation of historic resources. Subsequently, the National Park Service addressed feasibility and operational issues during a weeklong workshop.
There continues to be widespread local and state support for this national monument. On January 19, 2001, former President Clinton established a Governors Island National Monument by Presidential Proclamation. On March 28, 2001, Interior Secretary Gale Norton sent some 200 letters to local elected officials of all political affiliations seeking their ideas on proper and appropriate land use plans for the national monuments that had been created in 2000 and 2001.
To date, all letters received regarding the Governors Island National Monument have been overwhelmingly positive. The Secretary and our Northeast Regional Office have received letters from the Governor of New York, several State Assembly leaders, New York City Community Boards, the City Council, and the Governors Island Group, a coalition of twelve New York City preservation groups. We would be pleased to provide these to the subcommittee to be made part of the hearing record.
Section 4 of S. 689 would transfer administrative jurisdiction for the monument from GSA to the National Park Service. The bill would make it clear that the monument is not subject to the sale requirements of the Balanced Budget Act of 1997. We believe this legislation will eliminate any remaining questions and assure the permanent preservation and protection of the historic fortifications on Governors Island while making them accessible to the public.
Section 5 of S. 689 is the conveyance of the majority of Governors Island to the State of New York. The State would have the primary responsibility for the island’s redevelopment, operation and maintenance. We defer to the General Services Administration on those aspects of this legislation.
We recommend only one minor amendment to this bill, and that is for GSA to assign a date or GSA file number for the “Governors Island Preservation and Design Manual,” to clarify which version of the guidelines apply.
Governors Island is a national treasure. S. 689 would provide the National Park Service the authority and resources to properly administer the national monument and to work with the State and City of New York to ensure that the island remains a treasure for all the American people.
This completes my statement. I will be happy to answer any questions the committee may have regarding this matter.