STATEMENT OF BRENDA BARRETT, NATIONAL COORDINATOR FOR HERITAGE AREAS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 2033, TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO PROVIDE APPROPRIATIONS TO THE JOHN H. CHAFEE BLACKSTONE RIVER VALLEY NATIONAL HERITAGE CORRIDOR, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

 

APRIL 18, 2002

 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to appear before your committee to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 2033, a bill to authorize appropriations for the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor.S. 2033 provides for an authorization of $10 million in development funds to the Secretary for 4 years.The legislation would provide authority to the Secretary to make matching grants through Fiscal Year 2006, and encourage the implementation of the remaining portions of the Cultural Heritage and Land Management Plan, as approved by the Secretary in 1998. The funds would be available until expended.

 

The Department would support this legislation if amended to authorize not more than $5 million, available for fiscal years 2003 through 2007, of which not more than $1 million may be used any fiscal year.This amendment would bring the funding language of the underlying Act in line with the appropriations authorization language for other National Heritage Areas and Corridors and, as noted below, would fulfill the commitment to the 1988 management plan.Moreover the amendment would forestall the expectation of additional funding for other National Heritage Areas and Corridors.Additionally, we believe that the $5 million increase is reasonable within the larger context of the Departmentís commitment to the Presidentís Initiative to eliminate the deferred maintenance backlog.

 

The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was one of the first National Heritage Areas when Congress established it in 1986.Public Law 99-647 established the Blackstone Corridor to preserve and interpret, for the educational and inspirational benefit of future generations, the unique and significant contributions to our national heritage of historic and cultural lands, waterways and structures within the Blackstone River Valley in Massachusetts and Rhode Island.A Federal Commission was established to develop and implement an integrated resource management plan for the Heritage Corridor.Under current law, the term of the Heritage Corridor Commission expires in 2006, while the federal designation of the area and its boundaries continues in perpetuity.

 

In 1996, Congress, pursuant to Public Law 104-333, extended the life of the National Heritage Corridor Commission until November 12, 2006.Because the plan for the Heritage Corridor had not been revised and approved, Congress only authorized preliminary funding of $5 million in development funds for 3 years.The Secretary did not sign the management plan until 1998 and Congress again authorized $5 million in development funds for an additional 2 years.†† To date the Heritage Corridor has received $5.7 million dollars under these two authorizations for development funds.S. 2033 in effect would authorize development funds for the remaining 4 years of the term of the Commission and for the remaining commitment to the Cultural Heritage and Land Management Plan.

 

The John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor has special value to the National Park Service, as well as to the nation.With almost 15 years of experience behind it, the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor has been the model of a successful partnership between the federal government, state and local government, and partner organizations.The unique qualities of the Heritage Corridor is exemplified by the fact the there are permanent park staff assigned to the area.Matching grants from the Secretary permit the Heritage Corridor Commission and the Secretary to provide seed funding to allow important resources to be protected and interpreted.††

 

Traditionally Congress would have addressed the nationally significant resources of the Blackstone Valley by establishing a unit of the National Park System.The area, with well over 10,000 historic structures and over 40 historic New England villages is nationally significant as the birthplace of the American Industrial Revolution.Rather than one town or one factory, the Blackstone River Valley contained hundreds of historic factories and farms making it the first area in the nation to make widespread use of waterpower.

 

A multi-agency partnership with emphasis in the interpretation of a cultural landscape rather than federal ownership and regulation, was considered the more appropriate protection strategy for such a large area where people continue to live and work.The Blackstone Valley exemplifies a seamless system of local, state and federal efforts where people are working on a regional scale to maintain historical integrity by developing integrated protection and economic development strategies to enhance their quality of life and quality of resources.As one of the first National Heritage Areas established, the Heritage Corridor has become a model of how the National Park Service can work cooperatively with partners to achieve resource protection and public support.By comparison to the significant management expense of national parks in the Northeast, the Heritage Corridor demonstrates what can be achieved with modest investment, and a small but enthusiastic team of NPS professionals on the ground.Land ownership and operations of the area remain with the non-federal partners and the NPS assists with interpretation and planning.

 

The Heritage Corridor has been so successful in leveraging hundreds of millions of dollars toward projects that enhance the cultural and natural resources that Congress recognized the late Senator Chafee and his dedication and hard work in establishing the Heritage Corridor, by renaming it the John H. Chafee Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor.Of all his notable activities, as a U.S. Marine, as Secretary of the Navy, as Governor of Rhode Island, and as United States Senator, his wife, Mrs. Virginia Chafee, said most of all it would have been his wish for this Heritage Corridor to carry his name.

 

The 1998 plan has four core commitments totaling $15 million: (1) shaping a visitor experience that engages people in the understanding of the American Industrial Revolution; (2) preserving and enhancing the communities of the Blackstone Valley; (3) balancing conservation and growth that allows for the preservation of cultural and natural resources while encouraging economic growth; and (4) a commitment to improving the health of the Blackstone River and its watershed.The proposed $5 million increase in authorization to the Secretary for development funds would fulfill the commitment to the 1998 management plan.

 

Having received a total of $10.7 million in construction funds in the last ten years, which includes funds previously authorized as development and demonstration funds, the Commission is well on its way to achieving the commitments of the management plan. Several examples of how the heritage partnership formula has worked include the following:

 

Blackstone Valley Visitor Center/Slater Mill Historic Site -A $5.4 million historic development, with Heritage Corridor funding of approximately $800,000.

 

Museum of Work and Culture:an abandoned mill building located in the center of the City of Woonsocket, total cost $2.9 million, with Heritage Corridor funding of approximately $500,000.

 

River Bend Farm Interpretive Center: A dairy farm in Worcester County, MA restored as an interpretive center and outdoor recreation center, total cost of project $468,000, with Heritage Corridor funding of approximately $143, 000.

 

The Blackstone Riverway: A major restoration project providing for recreation, riverfront development, and restored water quality, total cost approximately $180 million, with Heritage Corridor funding of approximately $1.2 million.

 

This completes my testimony.I would be happy to answer any questions that you or any members of the subcommittee may have.