STATEMENT OF JOHN J. REYNOLDS, REGIONAL DIRECTOR, PACIFIC WEST REGION, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, BEFORE THE HOUSE COMMITTEE ON RESOURCES, SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, RECREATION, AND PUBLIC LANDS, CONCERNING THE YOSEMITE VALLEY PLAN AND ITS FINAL SUPPLEMENTAL ENVIRONMENTAL IMPACT STATEMENT.
MARCH 27, 2001
Good morning Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee. My name is John J. Reynolds and I am Regional Director of the Pacific West Region of the National Park Service.
I am here today to report on the Yosemite flood recovery efforts, the Yosemite Valley Plan and how it relates to the flood recovery efforts, and future projects that will require us to come back to Congress for more discussion.
As you may recall, a major flood occurred at Yosemite National Park in January 1997 causing significant damage throughout the park. The damage was so severe that Yosemite Valley was closed to the public for three and one-half months and, in fact, reopened to the public four years ago this month. In July 1997, Congress appropriated $186 million for flood recovery repairs, with the proviso that these repairs be carried out to help implement the park’s 1980 General Management Plan. An additional $11 million funding is available from the Federal Lands Highway Program, for a total flood recovery program of $197 million.
I am pleased to report that since then, we are on track with the flood recovery program. A substantial portion of the flood recovery program has been completed, resulting in restoration of many different types of public services. For example, 32 miles of damaged roads throughout the park have been repaired and six miles of the El Portal Road, one of three major access roads to Yosemite Valley has been completely reconstructed. This road not only connects Highway 140 and Mariposa to the valley, but also provides the connection to the park’s primary administrative and maintenance center in El Portal. Moreover, 138 miles of backcountry trails have been reconstructed, 25 trail bridges have been repaired or rebuilt, and seven miles of paved bike paths have been reconstructed. The park sustained substantial damage to the valley water, wastewater and electrical systems, which has been repaired. This vital infrastructure is critical to supporting both park operations and visitor facilities.
As of February 28, 2001, $77 million has been obligated. Of the balance, $106 million is for flood-affected facilities that are included in the Yosemite Valley Plan, with the remainder for flood damage repairs to infrastructure elsewhere in the park, outside of Yosemite Valley. More information on these projects can be found in the Flood Recovery Quarterly Report, which we routinely provide to Congress.
At the end of last year, I approved the Yosemite Valley Plan and Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement. This plan will implement many of the goals of the park’s 1980 General Management Plan and will ensure Congress’ direction that flood appropriations be used for this purpose. The 1980 plan established the broad goals to reclaim priceless natural beauty; allow natural processes to prevail; promote visitor understanding and enjoyment; markedly reduce traffic congestion; and reduce crowding. The Yosemite Valley Plan was guided by these goals.
Since 1980, additional studies and analyses have been conducted, particularly related to natural processes, visitor enjoyment, transportation, and housing. In the early 1990’s work on specific improvement plans for housing, Yosemite Valley, and the Yosemite Falls area was started. These efforts took on greater urgency following the flood of 1997 with the need to replace visitor facilities damaged or destroyed by the flood. The flood reconstruction plan for Yosemite Lodge, in conjunction with the other pre-flood plans, spurred litigation over concerns about fragmented planning. The litigation resulted in the decision to create one comprehensive and integrated Yosemite Valley Plan.
With the completion of this plan for Yosemite Valley, we are now on track for completing the remainder of the flood recovery program. We will soon begin to obligate the balance of the flood recovery funds on those portions of the Yosemite Valley Plan that were affected by the 1997 flood. For example, campgrounds will be restored or relocated to areas identified in the plan that are better able to sustain their impacts or do not, in themselves, cause impacts to the Merced Wild and Scenic River. Lodging units lost to the flood will be replaced at Yosemite Lodge and Curry Village. As detailed in the Flood Recovery Action Plan, new facilities will be designed and located where they will not experience damage in future floods of similar magnitude. Other projects include natural resource restoration and improved road circulation, to reduce congestion and conflicts with people walking or riding bicycles.
Beyond flood recovery, the Yosemite Valley Plan also identifies many important projects that would require additional funding and further approval from Congress and the administration before they could proceed. For many of these projects, we will do additional regulatory compliance that will involve extensive public review and input, including input from the gateway communities. Some of these projects include moving additional employee housing and services out of Yosemite Valley.
In the Yosemite Valley Plan, we commit to fulfilling our housing needs first in local communities. We have authority to create public-private partnerships to build and operate housing outside the park. We intend to use private fundraising, where appropriate, such as what we are doing with the Yosemite Falls Project. We would need to seek additional funding and approval before we could provide out-of-valley parking areas and associated shuttle systems. However, there are exciting opportunities underway by several of the local counties near the park to develop regional transit that has dramatic potential for lessening the amount of capital expenditures called for in this plan. Park visitors staying in nearby communities, leaving their cars in the motel lot, and taking regional transit could lessen the need to develop out-of-valley parking lots and associated shuttle bus systems in Yosemite. In fact, motels in gateway communities could offer their guests a choice in how to visit the park.
Mr. Chairman, Yosemite Valley is only seven miles long and less than one mile wide. The floor of the valley is further constrained by rockfall zones on both sides and the floodplain of the Merced Wild and Scenic River down the middle. Through the Yosemite Valley Plan and extensive public involvement and studies, we have addressed issues concerning space for campgrounds, tent cabins, historic hotels, roads, bike paths, parking lots, Housekeeping Camp, and employee housing, while also providing for and conserving the very natural scenery that draws people to the park.
During the public comment period for the draft plan, testimony was received at 14 public meetings throughout California. Public meetings were held in Denver, Seattle, Chicago, and Washington, DC. In Yosemite Valley, we held over 60 informal open houses and 59 walking tours to help people see on the ground what the plan proposed. And we made 150 presentations to interest groups and service clubs. This resulted in over 10,200 comments that were used to modify the draft and make changes in the final plan in response to public input.
We have found that people are passionate in their opinions of what should, or should not happen in Yosemite, and their input is important. While the majority of commenters acknowledge that recreational opportunities should continue to be available for Yosemite Valley visitors, people differ in their opinions of what sort of activities should be allowed and how they should be managed. While these choices are difficult, I am pleased to report that traditional activities will, for the most part, continue at levels that fit within the rockfall hazard and flood plain that constrain us in Yosemite Valley.
We are fortunate that with the funding opportunities of the flood recovery appropriations, the Fee Demonstration program, private donations, public-private partnerships, and future line item projects, we can implement the plan and restore natural processes and visitor services that are vital to the very values people come to Yosemite to enjoy – the meandering Merced River, the views of the thundering water falls and shadowed granite walls, the lush meadows and the wildlife that makes this valley its home.
That concludes my remarks, Mr. Chairman. I will be happy to answer any questions that you or the members of the subcommittee may have.