STATEMENT OF DURAND JONES, DEPUTY DIRECTOR, 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. 2595, TO AUTHORIZE THE EXPENDITURE OF FUNDS ON PRIVATE LANDS AND FACILITIES AT MESA VERDE NATIONAL PARK, IN THE STATE OF COLORADO, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.

 

July 18, 2002

________________________________________________________________________

 

 

Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interiorís views on S. 2595.This bill would allow Mesa Verde National Park to enter into a partnership with the Mesa Verde Foundation, associated tribes and others, to raise funds to construct and operate the Mesa Verde Cultural Center on lands outside the park owned by the Mesa Verde Foundation.

 

The Department recognizes the needs that S. 2595 is seeking to address.However, the Department cannot support the bill because it would circumvent our process for identifying park priorities and eliminating the deferred maintenance backlog in our national parks.The Department is committed to supporting the Presidentís Initiative to eliminate the park maintenance backlog, and we believe funds are more appropriately directed at this time to reducing the long list of necessary but deferred construction projects.

 

The Park has had a very successful partnership with the Mesa Verde Foundation, and they have been working together on the Cultural Center concept for many years.However, there are a number of unresolved issues remaining, including the location of the center, the amount of funding that would be required from the National Park Service and the relationship of the center to other service-wide priorities.Even though the proposed center has been analyzed in an environmental assessment, it has not been subject to the internal review and priority-setting process used for line-item construction projects.Given the proposed cost of $50,000,000, at least a portion of which could come from appropriated funds, review by the Service-wide Development Advisory Board would be valuable in ensuring that the proposed center is designed in a sustainable and cost-efficient manner.These issues need to be resolved before this proposal is ready for authorization.

 

S. 2595 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to collect and expend donated funds and expend appropriated funds for the design, construction, maintenance, and operation of a cultural center and related facilities.The purpose of the cultural center and facilities would be to accommodate visitors, to protect artifacts and archival materials, and for the administration of Mesa Verde National Park.The bill provides that the cultural center and facilities would be built on privately owned lands located outside and adjacent to the boundary of the park.

 

In the environmental assessment referenced earlier, the Park also analyzed a new visitor center, which would serve as the educational link connecting visitors to the park, regional resources and the modern-day tribes. Park visitors have long complained, especially during the winter months, about the 15-mile drive into the park, up a long, steep, narrow winding road to get to the Far View Visitor Center.The environmental assessment also analyzed having a small component of the cultural center to be dedicated to park administrative functions.This would locate the staff in close proximity to the associated communities and partners.

 

The Department recognizes the deficiencies S. 2595 seeks to address, particularly concerning inadequacies associated with the current curatorial facilities.As we continue to make progress on the maintenance backlog, we will begin to identify additional high priority needs for future action.Addressing the curatorial needs at Mesa Verde National Park will likely emerge as a significant priority from the National Park Serviceís ongoing review process.We look forward to working with Senator Campbell and the Committee in addressing this deficiency.

 

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