Appellate Court Upholds Lower Court Ruling on Development at Gateway National Recreation Area

Could a court's ruling Friday turn historic Fort Hancock's Parade Ground into a commercial sector? NPS photo.

A federal appellate court in New Jersey has upheld a lower court's opinion that the National Park Service was within its rights to lease nearly three dozen historic buildings at Gateway National Recreation Area to a commercial developer.

The ruling by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit is a blow to Save Sandy Hook, a non-profit group that has fought to prevent a developer from commercializing part of Fort Hancock, a post-Civil War fort that falls within the NRA.

The developer, Jim Wassel, has maintained that his efforts will benefit the facilities by restoring and maintaining them, as opposed to watching them continue to deteriorate because the National Park Service lacks the financial wherewithal to do just that.

Among Mr. Wassel's plans for his $70 million-$90 million "restoration" of Fort Hancock is to possibly turn 16 Officer's Row homes into bed-and-breakfast inns. A dorm once used for U.S. troops could be transformed into classrooms for Rutgers University or perhaps Brookdale Community College. Mess halls, gymnasiums, even the old mule barn and the officer's club, would be turned into who knows what to generate profits for Mr. Wassel. And the NPS would spend $2.2 million on a new dock so he could ferry conferees over to Fort Hancock from Manhattan.

Of course, some wonder whether Mr. Wassel has the financial wherewithal to get the job done. Back in 2001 the developer was awarded a 60-year-lease on 34 historic buildings in Fort Hancock, contingent upon him proving he had the financing to restore and operate the facilities. Just this past July the National Park Service granted Mr. Wassel a sixth extension to prove he has the funding needed to accomplish the task.

Save Sandy Hook officials long have questioned the appropriateness of the lease, arguing that it is contrary to the National Park Service's mission. In their legal battle the group has maintained that “[t]he proposed uses authorized by the Lease amount to a thinly disguised corporate office park in derogation of the purposes and values for which the Sandy Hook Unit was created and, as a result, will result in the crass commercialization and privatization of the Sandy Hook Unit in violation of the purposes and values for which Gateway was established.”

However, a year ago a lower court dismissed the group's case. Appealing to the appellate court produced the same result. In a very brief opinion issued today the court held that, "We have carefully examined the record and considered the parties’ arguments on appeal and can discern no error in the District Court’s ruling."

That said, a congressman has called for an investigation into the matter, and the resulting report from the Interior Department's Inspector General has yet to be issued.

Legal findings aside, this deal raises some philosophical questions (which I've raised before). For starters, will this deal, and others being considered by other cash-strapped parks, encourage National Park Service managers across the National Park System to commercialize operations rather than wait for federal funding to maintain facilities?

If so, is it appropriate for the general public to, in effect, pay several times (1. Through their taxes that fund the federal government. 2. Through entrance fees to the park in question. 3. Through fees charged by these commercial interests operating within parks) to see or enjoy the parks it in theory owns?

Comments

Setting aside the funding questions, which are troubling to say the least (but pale in comparison to all the other waste & graft existing in the federal government today), I actually don't have a problem with commercial development in Fort Hancock.

When I toured the place last year, I thought it was a great idea. Why? Because it puts businesses and residences in a historic district, instead of letting said district gather dust waiting for random history enthusiasts such as myself. As long as the physical integrity of the site doesn't change, so you can still see the significance of it, why not put it to use? They are keeping a few of the more important locations under complete NPS control and open to the public, aren't they? What are they supposed to do with the rest of the buildings? Clearly the NPS can't maintain them all.

I will say that this area is uniquely suited to such development, I don't think I've seen any other site that could be developed in this manner. I don't think you can use this case to fuel a "slippery slope" argument regarding commercial development in other National Park Service sites.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

I can tell you that as a national park superintendent I am planning on a similar project in my park. It is either that, or watch the historic buildings collapse. We cannot afford to maintain them and they will soon reach a condition where they will have to be torn down for safety reasons alone. Park managers are doing the best they can with what they have.

Barky,

Let's see, the Presidio has already gone done this road, jumping into commercial development with both feet; at Alcatraz they leased out the prison to Toyota for a bash with alcohol and, some say, marijuana; at Boston National Historical Park they rented out the Charleston Navy Yard for a corporate affair; I seem to recall mention of Cuyahoga Valley National Park also thinking of leasing out facilities. And, as Anonymous says, at least one other national park superintendent is looking closely at the Fort Hancock model.

Here are some snippets from a post I wrote back in August 07 after the Charleston Navy Yard and Alcatraz affairs.

Already this summer there have been two special events that some have called into question: The Toyota Scion party at Alcatraz in Golden Gate National Recreation Area, and the McKesson bash at the Charlestown Navy Yard of the Boston National Historical Park. What some have found objectionable is that neither event meshed, culturally or historically, with their respective settings. Rather, the decisions to OK both events seem to be based simply on drawing crowds to the park units for after-hours affairs.

Will we see private parties on the boardwalk that wraps Old Faithful? I'm told not. But who knows? Whether the Alcatraz and Charlestown Navy Yard affairs were the only special-use events that have been at odds with their settings is not easy to ascertain, as the Park Service's Washington headquarters does not track special uses.

Indeed, in the case of the Alcatraz and Charlestown affairs, the Park Service's point person for special uses had no advance knowledge of the parties.

Were the Alcatraz and Charlestown parties big deals? Considered in a vacuum, probably not. But if they set precedents that will open other units of the national park system to similarly questionable uses, these bashes were very big deals.

Another concern is that while NPS Director Mary Bomar promised Congress that she would see that transparency is key in how her agency conducts business, that message does not seem to be trickling down to all units of the Park Service. While the folks at Golden Gate were more than willing to discuss how they handled the Toyota party, those at Boston National Historical Park largely have turned a deaf ear to questions about how they manage special uses in general and, more specifically, why they approved the McKesson party.

So far they refuse to discuss:

* The parameters of the contract with Amelia Occasions, a wedding and special events planner, and what it requires from Amelia in terms of payment for the use of the Navy Yard's Commandant's House or whether Amelia is responsible for maintenance of the house;

* How many special events they allow each year;

* How much revenue, if any, these events generate, and;

* Why the McKesson party, which required a dozen tents to dispense alcohol to roughly 3,500 invitees, was permitted when Director's Order 53 clearly states that special uses that are contrary to the purposes for which a park was established or which unreasonably impair the atmosphere of peace and tranquility maintained in wilderness, natural, historic, or commemorative locations within the park should not be allowed.

They have said, though, that the best way to preserve a historic building is to use it.

...

While efforts to lure new audiences are laudable, there are some within the Park Service who question how these efforts are being carried out.

"My feeling is that this is out of control. I think the message from (Director) Bomar and others is see if you can make money," one ranger told me. "I think you can do these events without desecrating or bastardizing the resource or the image. But we're not."

Barky, you're right that the NPS can't currently maintain all its facilities appropriately. But that's not because we as a nation can't afford to do so.

I'd suggest that if Congress can attach $6 BILLION in EARMARKS to legislation as it recently did, if the administration can even talk about bailing Wall Street out to the tune of $700 BILLION, and in light of the fact that Washington is spending BILLIONS every month in Iraq, that money exists to help the parks.

And we're not talking about infusing tens of billions of dollars into the park system to properly maintain it. Far from it. Here's piece of a post I wrote in June about properly funding the parks:

Regular Traveler readers might recall an essay of Dr. Pitcaithley's that was highlighted on this site last fall. In it he argued that the Park Service’s budget, currently running at about $2.3 billion, should be at least $5 billion or $6 billion to adequately meet the agency’s needs. In justifying that investment, Dr. Pitcaithley points not just to the recreational value of the National Park System, but to its educational, scientific, and preservation missions. Cast another way, when we fund the National Park Service we’re not just investing in trees and mountains and gorgeous landscapes, but in both this country’s past and its future, in both its culture and its knowledge base.

Unfortunately, we seem to have lost sight of those values and possibly have begun to take the national parks for granted, figuring they're well taken care of now and will be tomorrow.

“The chronic under-funding of the National Park Service is not now and has not been for the past 50 years a matter of money – it is a matter of priorities!” Dr. Pitcaithley told those who attended that conference back in April. “Five billion dollars amounts to 0.002 percent of the president’s 2008 proposed budget.”

For the sake of comparison, while the National Park Service slogs along with its insufficient budget, the Defense Department is funded at roughly $550 billion, the professor points out. Just one B-2 bomber costs $2 billion, he adds for emphasis.

“Do you really think the American people would notice if this country’s military industrial complex held one less bomber than it does today and that those funds were transferred to the National Park Service?” he wonders. “The president and Congress took less than ten minutes to determine that the economy needed an economic stimulus package totaling $150 billion. Do you think anyone would have complained if it were $148 billion? And the resulting $2 billion saving were given to the National Park Service?”

I fear that if park advocates don't raise a stink over the current funding inequities, if they go along with the commercialization of the National Park System, Congress won't spend more, and very likely will spend less, on the parks.

Let not confuse one time events (Alcatraz and Boston) with long term commercial use of historic buildings. Two times now, decommissioned military complexes were handed over to the NPS: Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook and the Presidio of San Francisco. These complexes consist of vastly more buildings then the NPS unit can use for its own purposes - from museums, visitor facilities, eventual concessionaires and administration.

So what is the NPS to do with buildings it has to maintain but can't use? In case of the Presidio we are talking about 870 buildings, in Fort Hancock only 50 or so. There simply is no alternative to leasing them to commercial uses. And who would want to visit a park full of buildings with dark windows and badly maintained roads and walkways? Get life into the complexes, modern life, commercial life, sustainable uses. About 2500 people live in the Presidio of San Francisco, some in former officer housing, beautiful Victorian or Revival style buildings with a views onto the Bay, the Golden Gate Bride, the ocean or downtown.

If you believe this is not consistent with the mission of the NPS, then give those installations to some other agency, but it would be foolish not to use them.

With all due respect to MRC, the NPS has a lot more than 2 decomissioned military bases. Cape Cod and Acadia have substantial military bases. Santa Monica Mountains, Indiana Dunes, Gateway, Golden Gate, and a host of other parks have old Nike missile bases, heck, the entire park of Minute Man Missile is a former military base. And that doesn't count all the historic forts. Indeed, the NPS has the former military gun and fort sites protecting almost every major harbor in America including Baltimore, San Francisco, San Diego, New York, Charleston, and Boston. I say we re-arm these places and the NPS can REALLY have a funding bargaining chip - they can threaten to close down the harbors! :-)

Kurt, I hear what you're saying, but your dream of a Congress that fully funds the NPS, or of taxpayers willing to pay more in taxes to fully fund government projects in general, is a dead one. The NPS has no choice but to allow commercial use of these facilities whenever prudent.

It's either that, or as MRC has stated, give these properties over to someone else. The idea that all this property can be properly managed by a government agency or with public funds in this day and age is untenable.

Sorry.

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My travels through the National Park System: americaincontext.com

We need some context here. We are mixing apples and oranges, and there ARE some scary issues presented by the various cases Kurt has raised:

-- Charlestown Navy Yard is not following the obvious law in the way it is commercializing the Commodore's House. It is using a cooperative agreement via a third party middle-man, which is the wrong instrument despite extensive congressional effort to provide NPS with the correct instruments. Also, NO revenue is coming back to the NPS. The congress provided either the concessions law, as a mechanism for competitive selection of a vendor plus max revenue, or the historic leasing law. NPS thinks, and may be right, that it can use the historic leasing law for spot occassions (parties, events) rather than the 12-7 type lease happening at Sandy Hook at Gateway NRA in New Jersey. The public opportunity to see the Commodore's house is not completely compromised by these events, that normally do not hinder public visits. But the agreement being used here is a dangerous and lazy precedent. The lawyers for NPS are up in arms over the use of the cooperative agreement for this one.

NPS should use the right instrument, where it can control the activities in a thoughtful way.
I am guessing the reason the park is not using the historic leasing act, is that NPS cannot use a 3rd party as middle-man with the historic leasing act, and must keep all the revenue if it did use that act. the proper instrument here is probably the Concession law.

-- Gateway NRA, Sandy Hook in New Jersey: this is a bad example for a precedent for anything, and must be examined carefully before it is used as a precedent. These structures are the primary structures of a National Historic Landmark. These are very significant structures, and among the only specific things mentioned the the (really pretty pathetic) legislation for Gateway, that mentions very few specific resources as of prime significance. The weird part is IT IS within the law to use the historic leasing act, at least as the NPS defines the purpose of that act. THE PROBLEM with this, is in effect the historic leasing act conflicts with the NPS Act of 1916, the Organic Act of the NPS. Much of his prime resource of the park, these beautiful historic structures, according to the Gateway establishing legislation, will be closed to public use. The NPS Act of 1916 states that the purpose of parks is public use, yet the leasing act allows the NPS to take a structure out of use to preserve it.

It is true the NPS cannot think of what to do with the Ft. Hancock structures, it is also true that it never even asked congress for the money. It is also true that practically the real purpose of Sandy Hook is the beach, and Ft. Hancock is not the reason for visiting the park. In theory, the right thing to do, even though NPS now is operating within the authority of the leasing act, would be to go to congress and get an exception in this case. Otherwise, the scary thing is primary park resources are being removed from public use and enjoyment, as required by the Act of 1916. WE CANNOT HAVE CORE PARK RESOURCES COMMERCIALIZED TO THE POINT THAT THE PUBLIC IS EXCLUDED, even if NPS things the leasing act makes it lawful. I am all in favor of adaptive re-use of public buildings, but we are beginning to see some very scary proposals in NY now that would take core nps facilities and turn them over to others.

[The other pretty scary way Gatway is turning the law upside down is a conflict over wetlands restoration vs preserving military sites as historic. Many thought when Gateway was established that the old airfields were just surplus property, that should be remove. The establishing act says nothing about the airfields in the Jamaica bay protion of Gateway. Yet the NPS is maintaining them, and preparing historic documentation, as if these are prime resources. The higher use may be to permit wetlands to be reestablished at these sites. Those wetlands were destroyed to build the macadam strips, and wetlands loss is killing the Jamaica bay protion of the park. This issue should be taken head on, because we have a real conflict of appropriate use here, created by conflicting laws.]

-- Golden Gate in San Francisco has a lot of special legislation, permitting special uses not enjoyed (?) by other NPS units. Although former Director Fran Mainella and others constantly put Golden Gate up there as a model for other parks, it is not a good model because the only reason the whole thing works is that Alcatraz is a cash cow that underwrites the corporation that runs much of the parks' partnership and friends-group activities.

Some of the comments on this thread are right about the NPS taking over management of military sites after the military decides it can no longer afford them. They need to come with an endowment, with all hazmat and maintenance brought up to standard, and maybe with special legislation to enable revenue generation if the NPS is to take them over.

I hasten to say I agree with Barky that the leasing idea with Wassel is a good idea, but I think NPS should have (IE: get congressional approval) explicit authority to use historic leases to displace public use of prime park assets. I agree that Ft. Hancock is a bad example, and is not a good precedent to use on other parks. (eliminating public acccess to prime park resource, I mean) There are now other proposals in New York to turn primary park resources over to private interests, and this needs to be addressed head on, so no bad precedents come out of this. But, on the merits alone, the idea of restoration via a lease at Ft. Hancock is a good idea. Just not a good precedent.

But I think Barky is wrong about the money. The money IS there for parks. Like the NPS Directors of old, the NPS needs to go out and get the money. The national park service needs to go back to fighting for the money.

NPS has allowed the enemies of the NPS to use the justification that the reason they don't want to provide the money is they just don't think the NPS is fully accountable. This justification is a cover for people who began their careers opposing the Mission of the NPS. NPS could double, triple, quadruple its budget and it would be a blip in the federal budget.

Here is how the cover works. We have had 2 Director's now, and actually several since President Reagan, who keep adding new adminisTRIVIA to the duties of managing the parks, so as to "prove" parks are accountable. None of these efforts lead to more funds, only more administrivia consuming the energy of parks. I am talking about things like "core mission" surveys" "most efficient organization programs" and "GPRA." The United States needs to stop picking Directors the way they picked Sara Palin. We need people able and willing to fight for parks, not media picks. We have people as Director now who are chose because it is known they will NOT expose the Members of Congress and the Executive Branch who get to hide behind this "accountability" argument. We need Directors who will fight for parks in trouble, like Valley Forge and Yellowstone, and not just let them secumb to political rhetoric.

Barky may be implying there may be middle grounds for the money, and if he is saying this, I agree with him. There are a lot of sources of funding out there, and NPS needs to use all the means of generating revenue or getting appropriations it can, provide it does not violate the Mission of the park service.

The problem now with the whole Ft. Hancock thing is the delay has been so long and so unconscionable, that there is no way the banks who once were prepared to lend money to Wassel are still willing and able to do so. He won't be able to get the money in this environment. This congressman, Pallone, seems to be without any ability or sense. If he does not want NPS to use the leasing law, then he must fight for straight appropriations for the park. He neither supports the lease, nor gets the money to restore the buidings, and manages to stymie the whole thing so long, these beautiful building will just rot. He should be ashamed.

Too many Members of Congress just want to make sure they have no responsibility for anything, but just want to attack anyone trying to make something happen. We should start targeting the people who obscure and avoid helping the parks, and stop targeting the people are are trying to get the money.

The debate on Fort Hancock has included much comment on “using historic leases to displace public use of prime park assets” which, in the case of the Fort, is completely wrong. The grounds of Fort Hancock have been, and will continue to be, freely used by the public. The 60 buildings subject to the lease have not been used by anyone for more than 30 years, and have been left to deteriorate because of a lack of sufficient funds, even for basic maintenance. As Barky and MRC have correctly stated, using Fort Hancock as an example in the debate over “privatization” of the parks is a mistake. It displays a lack of knowledge of the physical nature of the Fort, how it fits into Sandy Hook as a whole, and what its use has been heretofore and will be under the restoration plan.

If you turn to Kurt’s article of June 30, 2007 [sorry that I’m not good on links] you will see that the Fort covers only a small fraction of Sandy Hook. His brief item of July 11, 2007 will take you to Terese Loeb Kreuzer’s July 10, 2007 report of a day-trip using the ferry service from New York. This article is particularly informative, covering the Fort as well as Sandy Hook as a whole. Ms. Kreuzer’s visit itself points out Kurt’s error in stating that “the NPS would spend $2.2 million on a new dock so he [the developer] could ferry conferees over to Fort Hancock from Manhattan.” I believe, and could be wrong, that the amounts already allocated for this facility come from transportation funds and not the NPS. But more importantly, this dock is not something new, but a replacement for the rickety wooden structure that now serves the ferries on which Ms. Kreuzer traveled, nearly all of whose passengers are headed for the beaches, and not Fort Hancock. There are plenty of beaches at Sandy Hook, but limited parking. Park goers, after a long drive, must often be turned away before noon on summer weekends as the lots fill. If memory serves, ferry trips roughly doubled from 2006 to 2007, from 6,000 to 12,000. A rebuilt dock will facilitate this service and allow more people to use the beaches on weekends, in addition to providing an alternative to the automobile for future visitors to, or employees of, Fort Hancock. Many local residents now use these ferries to commute to or visit New York. What’s wrong with traveling the other way? Are we now against public transportation?

At least Kurt didn’t have the temerity to call Save Sandy Hook a “grass-roots” organization. I can’t do any better than a commenter on the local newspaper’s report of the 3rd Circuit’s decision:

SSH claims to be a “grass roots” environmental org.

Its address is Judith & Stanley [sic] Coleman’s giant house situated on an environmentally fragile bluff overlooking the Navesink River.

Their house & landscaping must cause erosion of the bluff and some runoff from their property must make it’s way into the Navesink.

Their carbon footprint must be significant too!

Some “grass roots” Environmental Org!

This opposition has been virtually a personal vendetta, funded by the Colemans. They had no case from the beginning, as Judge Cooper so ably demonstrated in her opinion. Their continuing to drag it out over five years, and more, would seem to have been motivated solely by a wish to kill the project, and the buildings, through delay. All that will have been accomplished is making restoration much more expensive.

Readers should recognize that all of Sandy Hook is now open to the public, with the exception of the Coast Guard installation on the bay side. Some of the buildings also are, including the restored Lighthouse and Keepers’ Quarters, which saw 17,000 visitors last season. Visit the Sandy Hook website, or that of the Sandy Hook Foundation, where you can link to the Winter 2007 edition of their newsletter, the Sand Paper. It describes jitney service through the Park, including the Fort.

Visit the Fort Hancock Museum, Battery Potter, and History House, a restored home on Officers' Row. The Sandy Hook Lighthouse, Keepers' Quarters and Barn tell the story of the lonely life of a sentinel of the sea. Most sites are open weekends with extended summer hours.

The Sand Paper also contains several before and after pictures of the Fort’s 1941 Chapel. Restored, it has become popular for weddings and other local functions. Or visit the developer’s website, the Fort at Sandy Hook, to see their plans for the rest of the Fort. The theater as restored by them is also now available for use, both under long-time arrangements that the NPS has had with some local groups, and for new scheduling by the lessee. One can denigrate these uses as “commercial,” but I will gladly pay the price of a theater ticket to enjoy that facility, and have last year and this coughed up contributions to the Fort Foundation for Arts and Education, and seen exhibitions in the Chapel. If I knew how, I’d link you to a color picture of the interior . . . it’s a beautiful job. All done pursuant to the Department of the Interior’s guidelines for historic preservation, and the even stricter ones of the New Jersey State Historic Preservation Office.

In sum, the restoration of Fort Hancock will not shut out the public; it will open it to far more, and more enjoyable, use. If you have to pay for a hamburger in the Mule Barn, so did the WWII soldiers who used it as an Enlisted Mens Club. And if access to a former barracks converted to classrooms, offices, and laboratories for Rutgers University is limited, so is it for such facilities at their New Brunswick campus. The Wassell plan was the only one that offered to retain and restore all of these buildings as a unified whole, adding no new construction. The gym stays a gym; the bakery stays a bakery [or a kitchen]; offices stay offices; residences stay residences. The specific use of each building is subject to approval by the NPS. And if the many thousands of soldiers that populated the Fort in its heyday are gone, I will be glad to see them replaced 24/7 by hundreds, or thousands, of civilians, coming and going in these buildings, with their windows sparkling out over the water at night. Far better that than to watch these buildings slowly deteriorate, as I have for 30 years. I live here, and probably know Fort Hancock and the issues involved better than most who have commented. I can appreciate the debate on NPS funding, and in fact wholeheartedly agree with Kurt and others on it, but take it somewhere else. It doesn’t apply here, because even if the NPS could find the money to restore these buildings, it couldn’t come up with better uses for them than Mr. Wassell has.

Dear Water Witch:

Please clarify by just answering a few specific questions, relating to your rebuttal. It is important for us to understand if your comments are balanced and take all facts into account, or if you are just an advocate of the developer and opponent of the Colemans.

[First, please be assured that I think, and other historic preservationists think, that the private use of these structures via Wassel's proposal was, and is, the best proposal on the table. I also think you are right on with the dock issue. BUT whether this is a good or bad precedent to the ENTIRE NATIONAL PARK SYSTEM is the troubling issue.] OK, here are a few clarifying questions, since you seem to know the details of this project pretty well, I am sure you can give us direct answers:

1) On the idea that the Coleman's on on their own and represent only a personal vendetta: a) can you tell us the editorial position of the local paper on this issue? b) what is the position of the local US congressman on thiis issue? Has that congressman, outside this issue, generally voted for NPS budgets in the past? c) at the public hearing the Congressman arranged at the park, at which the coleman's spoke, are you really saying that only they in that room opposed the Wassel plan, and that the entire sentiment supported the NPS and Wassel?? d) If you believe the Coleman's are own their own with no public support, why in the world would the Congressman and the local paper be carrying their water on this?

2) You make a large point about the public access to the buildings. a) will every building identified as a 'contributing structure' in the National Historic Landmark be open to public visits? b) or, will some of the restored buildings function pretty much as a high-tech industrial park: ie: offices, CLOSED to public visits? c) Is the Ft. Hancock National Historic Landmark specifically cited in the authorizing legislation for Gateway NRA as a primary park resource, and a reason for the establishment of the Nat. Recreation Area?

3) Has the NPS requested the funding from Congress to restore these structures using NPS construction funds, rather than or before seeking private dollars to turn them over to private development?

4) You say that "even if the NPS could find the money to restore these buildings, it couldn't come up with better uses for them than Mr. Wassell has." My understanding is: NPS never offered that alternative to the public, but would have required any not-for-profit to cover the cost of restoration and pay market-based leasing costs. a) Are you saying that if the NPS HAD restored these buildings FIRST and THEN issued an RFP for ideas for appropriate uses consistent with park purposes or educational program, you are convinced NO GOOD IDEAS for exciting uses, consistent with park purposes, could ever have been imagined or proposed? Is it not true that local universities and environmental groups had attempted to explore with the NPS some public use of these building, but because the NPS would require them to pay for restoration and a market lease, that attempt failed?

b) Is it true that in the 1970's the NPS budget office came up with a list of 4,000 historic structures, including iconic lodges at Yellowstone and Glacier, that would have to be bulldozed because NPS lacked the money, presented that list to Congress, and ultimately, didn't Congress find a way to fund all those projects, rather than bulldoze them? Why was the NPS willing to pressure Congress then, but Sandy Hook was not?
c) Do you agree Sandy Hook has a reputation of being neglected by the management of Gateway NRA, who live and work in New York, and who make the New Jersey segment a low priority? Do you think that if Sandy Hook were an independent NRA with its own independent superintendent, that there WOULD have been a funding request for Ft. Hancock? Do you think the reason Gateway does not request funds for Sandy Hook is because this big conglomerate is making the New York projects the priorities instead?

Although there is no specific mandate in the Gateway law to protect as historic structures Floyd Bennett field or other parts of the Jamaica Bay, NY, part of Gateway, hasn't a lot more money been spent their, than on these NATIONAL LANDMARK structures in Sandy Hook??

[Here is what the Gateway law says, plain English: "In the Sandy Hook . . .Units, the Secretary shall inventory and evaluate all sites and structures having present and potential historical, cultural, or architectural significance AND SHALL PROVIDE for appropriate programs for the preservation, restoration, interpretation, AND UTILIZATION OF THEM." Development advocates get out from under this mandate by the historic leasing law, that permits, but obviously conflicts with, the intent of the Act of 1916]

In the absence of your answers, it seems to me your case is based entirely on the idea that NPS has never opened many of these NHL buildings to the public, so nothing is being lost. It seems to me you are avoiding the question that the purpose of parks is both to protect a site and provide for their use by the public.

It seems to me conscientious people would agree it is vital that the NPS seek congressional approval for this, and acknowledge it as an exception to appropriate policy, for unique reasons. Otherwise you will see more and more privitization, for exactly this justification, on primary park resources throughout the country.

If NPS was not going to ask for the money, it could at least have asked for congressional authority for this lease, to prevent this very dangerous precedent. I think if NPS is straight about all this, and less adversarial, it would do better with its proposal.

Water Witch

Dear d-2:

That’s more than a few questions, but I’ll do my best, and return to the issue if I leave it incomplete.

You should understand that Mrs. Stanley/Coleman, who married Judge Coleman [retired from the NJ Superior Court] relatively recently, has long been active in local civic, political, and preservation issues. She was a founder and presently serves as President of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation. Her accomplishments are many, but in my view, and those of many active in support of “Sandy Hook” [as I will refer to the Sandy Hook Unit of the GNRA, including the Fort Hancock Historic District], her opposition to the restoration of Fort Hancock is not one of them.

"My husband and I are the only ones giving money to Save Sandy Hook, unless we have an event," she said. "I'm not sure we can continue to support it alone.”

I don’t claim that they alone are opposed; just that without their extreme advocacy the litigation that stalled progress would have been over a long time ago. She has been reported to have said that the best thing that could happen to the Fort buildings would be for them to fall down; apparently leaving the Hook to the terns, piping plovers, summer beach-goers, and British and Colonial Revolutionary soldiers' ghosts that inhabit it. The litigation that is now almost ended seems to have been geared only to that end. I disagree that they should be left to fall down. As Honor Graduate of a Vietnam-era Special Leadership Course at Fort Riley’s Noncommissioned Officers’ Academy [I was a draftee], who scrubbed the floors where Custer might have trod, I have a certain appreciation for the historic significance, and aesthetic integrity, of the Fort’s many buildings. Read Ms. Kreuzer’s article, and you may get some sense of it.

Accepting that you agree that the best thing to do is preserve the buildings, as I do, the issue is really how to do so, and for what purpose. What may be unique here is the number of buildings involved in “the plan,” and the number already being put to use by the NPS and various not-for-profits. See the following from a July 9, 2004 NPS News Release:

SHP will rehabilitate thirty-six of the one hundred buildings at Fort Hancock. The remaining sixty-four buildings will continue to be used by the NPS and by its existing government and non-profit park partners including the New Jersey Marine Science Consortium, Brookdale Community College and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Marine Fisheries Laboratory.

In 1999, the NPS issued a request for proposals in an effort to halt the deterioration of buildings within a 140-acre portion of the 380-acre Fort. Twenty-two proposals were received and evaluated. SHP’s proposal was selected and an extensive assessment resulted in a finding of no significant impact on the 2,000-acre park from the proposed rehabilitation and re-use plan.

In addition to Fort Hancock, the Sandy Hook Unit of Gateway National Recreation Area features some 2,000 acres of beautiful beaches and wildlife areas and hosts two and one half million visitors a year.

Rutgers University’s Institute of Marine and Coastal Sciences and Brookdale Community College are expected to expand on their marine/environmental science programs in the restored buildings, and other tenants are still being sought. But there’s not enough demand by tenants like these to take up all of the buildings, so, in my view, the Wassell plan offers the best solution.

The major local paper, the Asbury Park Press, has taken a strong position against the project at the editorial level, although various staff writers on the subject and other smaller papers have been somewhat more balanced. The Press did give a full ½ page to my comment on the legal issues, Park Service Followed Laws on Fort Hancock Lease, on November 21, 2007, but I don’t know how to park a JPG file somewhere and link you to it. If you’re interested, you may be able to pull it from their archives, although it does look much better with the picture that they added. That comment, to which your knowledge of the NPS and various enabling legislation might cause you to take exception, was based on my experience as a practitioner in the field of administrative law. My particular specialty is Customs & International Trade, but many of the principles are identical; enough so that I knew, with a somewhat limited knowledge of the underlying facts and proceedings, that the lawsuit had virtually no chance of success from the beginning. I make my living suing or otherwise opposing the United States and various of its officials, and I know the abuses, or misuses, to which the law can be put. Read Judge Cooper’s opinion, and you’ll wonder why they started, if it wasn't for delay.

The local Congressman, Frank Pallone, was originally in favor of a restoration plan other than Wassell’s, that included new hotels and other structures. [one of the bases for the NPS’s choice of Wassell was no new construction] I even have a clipping somewhere with a picture of him standing in fron of an easel displaying the plan. You are far more dialed into NPS funding and the Washington scene than I am, so perhaps you can answer his role and other funding questions on your own. Pallone's flip from support to opposition doesn’t seem to have any logical cause, and his call for investigation where others have been held and found baseless would seem to be mere pandering. Obviously funding depends on leases, and leases depend on people having some assurance that they're going to be able to move in, so nobody except someone like Donald Trump is going to able to "front" the money. Do we want Donald? Despite the fact that she’s a Republican and he a Democrat, Pallone's switch could be based on some arm twisting by Mrs. Stanley/Coleman, who has over time had some considerable local political power. I leave conjecture on backroom deals to others.

Access to the buildings is obviously going to depend on the use to which they are put. I took an oceanography course in one of them, although that's one that's not covered by the lease, and have been to the Theater [now much improved] and the Chapel. A restaurant in the mess hall, a B&B in one of the Officer’s Row houses, the Gym, the Theater, etc., will be “open” to the public, at a cost commensurate with the nature of their use. You surmise that my position is “based entirely on the idea that NPS has never opened many of these NHL buildings to the public, so nothing is being lost.” Not true; although I DO believe that it would be better to see them restored and landscaped as some sort of historical “exhibit,” rather than falling down, even if the interiors were to be entirely unavailable. The Parade Ground is a magnificent spot for picnicking or recreation; the walkways are great for hiking through [and there’s a new bike path the length of the Hook, paid for by NPS]; and all of this would be enhanced by a restoration.

Neither the NPS nor the DOD saw fit to do much to support a public discussion of the merits of the plan, much to the consternation of the Sandy Hook Foundation, the official friends organization for the Sandy Hook Unit. Considering the substantial efforts expended [and money raised] by them to support Sandy Hook, which generates income that is “siphoned away” for other units within the Area, there is some feeling that they would be better off if Sandy Hook were its own NRA. Again, your knowledge of NPS financing would help you to understand this better than I.

Although I am not privy to, or familiar with, the complete background on early efforts, it would seem to me that individual leasing and restoration of the 36 buildings, in addition to placing tremendous burdens on the NPS in having to undertake functions for which they may not be well suited, could have led to nightmare consequences, and tremendous multiplication of costs. I have seen the documentation on the Sandy Hook Foundation’s restoration of the Lighthouse Keepers’ Quarters, and between the DOI and the NJ SHPO, it’s frightening.

Before I close, at least for the moment, I should advise that I sit on the advisory board to SHP, along with the Chairman of the Township’s Landmarks Commission; a Trustee of the NJ Conservation Foundation and former Vice-President of the Monmouth Conservation Foundation [of which Mrs. Stanley Coleman is President]; the President of the Sandy Hook Foundation; and the President of the Twin Lights Foundation [the closest other National Register Landmark]. [I have far lesser qualifications than these other people, but have been the long-time President of Monmouth Hills, Inc., the governing body for the landmarked 1895 Water Witch Club Historic District, which sits in the "Highlands of the Navesink," overlooking Sandy Hook]. All of these people, many of whom have labored for years to support Sandy Hook, are fully in favor of the plan. Like me, they all feel that it would be better if the government had stepped in years ago to restore these buildings. But unlike a lodge, or limited number of structures, there are simply too many, requiring too much money. Each one individually may not be much, but collectively, even now, they’re a knockout . . . at least to an old infantryman and mortarman. Restoration of the 19th century mortar battery, at a cost of over $1 million, is next on the Foundation's list. Do you wonder why I'm a supporter?

If I’ve ducked any of your questions, come back and I’ll try to do better.

More for d-2 -

You posit that the NPS could have restored the buildings, and then sought appropriate uses. This skirts the issue of what you would have if you simply restored all of the buildings. You would have 36/100ths of an obsolete military base. But bases are closing, and no military unit wants it. The county, three towns involved, and many local residents, are now wrestling with a somewhat similar issue regarding Fort Monmouth, soon to be closed as part of the BRAC process. Aberdeen got a chunk of Fort Hancock when the range and power of coastal defense guns made proving them too dangerous for its location so close to New York, and now it's getting the Army's electronic warfare function, that developed at Fort Monmouth. That Fort may be chopped up among the various towns and ultimately developers, but the issues there are military function and economic, not historic.

If you simply restored the magnificent waterfront Officers' Row and NCO housing, you could rent them at considerable profit, considering both the beauty of their location and the fact that they're a half-hour ferry ride from Wall Street. But would this better serve the public than to turn them into B&B's? You could turn the whole complex into a new community college, or branch of an existing one, but Brookdale and Rutgers will take as many of the buildings as they currently have need for. While discussions may be continuing with MIT and other educational and medical institutions. they can't use all 36. And if they could, would the "public" have access to a college gym or cafeteria? Better to have a privately-run facility open to the public, than a "public" facility closed to it. These "new" uses will have to be consistent with the old ones to the extent practicable, but it makes more sense to find new uses that will benefit the public or society in some way, then tailor the restoration to those uses, than to do a precise restoration and then have to undo a lot of that work to accommodate new uses.

That part of the former Fort that lies on the hill above me, consisting of a site of WWII artillery, and cold-war anti-missile batteries and radar installation, has already become part of the Monmouth County Park system, but it doesn't make sense to "sell off" bits and pieces of the main body of Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook. Part of the beauty of the Fort is its integrity. Better to restore and maintain that integrity, than to chop it up and dole it out to potentially conflicting uses or users.

Fort Hancock as I know it seems a lot like Fort Moultrie as described by SaltSage236 in one of his September 29 comments on "301 Units." It is a park in which local residents, once the rush of summer beachgoers is gone, can relax and play amidst once and future beautiful historic buildings, and sometimes go inside one or the other of them to view historic exhibits, or attend a reception, or an art exhibit, or a concert. I don't have to touch a sculpture or painting to enjoy it; I don't have to pet an animal in a zoological habitat to appreciate it; and I don't have to be able to go inside each and every building at Fort Hancock to enjoy them. What is the public being deprived of by the plan adopted by the NPS? The joy of watching these buildings fall down? For all the criticism leveled against the present plan, in the more than 20 years that this process has been going on nobody has offered a better one. It's past the time for talk about what might have been done. I saw some of the 1895 stone walls and gutters in our landmarked community deteriorating, sweated and strained over the course of a weekend in Kentucky, and now have certificate in wallbuilding from the Dry Stone Conservancy. I can't restore the buildings at Fort Hancock, but I'll do what I can to support it.

As far as Sandy Hook being the poor relation in the GNRA family, you know more than I. Gateway is run out of New York, which in turn is run out of where, Philadelphia? Perhaps the reason that Sandy Hook has received short shrift is that it's not fully appreciated either by an administration located elsewhere or "the locals." Some locals would rather use the beaches at Sandy Hook than the public beach or private [and expensive] beach clubs in Sea Bright just to the south, but most beachgoers at Sandy Hook are day-trippers from northern New Jersey or New York. Gateway probably has more people living within 50 miles of it than any other unit in the system, but these people don't have any influence over local politicians, so Sandy Hook is hardly on their radar, and the beachgoers aren't going to go home and tell their own legislators to push for funds for Sandy Hook. And should NPS funds be used to totally subsidize use by educational institutions or non-profits; or should users be required to pay the reasonable costs of their use? Any such user could have responded to the RFP with a proposal that accomplished the purposes sought and would cover those costs, but none apparently did.

Fort Hancock seems caught up in the debate over whether "adaptive reuse" should be a regular tool in the NPS's bag, or an exception that has to be specifically authorized by Congress. It appears to me that the present legal structure gives this power to the NPS, which SHOULD be more capable than Congress of determining how to use it, but I don't have the background to contribute to that essentially political discussion. I just want to save Fort Hancock.

Dear Water Witch:

thanks for your deeper, complex analysis.

1. For the record, I agree, and have agreed, that this historic lease is a good idea at Ft. Hancock.

2. I do NOT like the failure of the NPS to aggressively fight for the money in the first place. Or, in the case of Ft. Hancock, even ASK for the money. That obviously has nothing to do with you, and you are clear you just want to see the beautiful buildings saved. So do I, which is why I support what appears to be the only real option on the table, in the absence of any leadership at the higher levels in the NPS to ask for the money.

3. In principle and in fact, I also agree with you about the public value of adaptive re-use of historic buildings. The most important thing to do with historic buildings is use them. That keeps them maintained.

4. But my only real problem with all this, beyond failure of the Gateway park superintendent or the Director of the NPS to ask for the money, is the idea of key park resources being managed by someone else in such a way as to convert those buildings to a private purpose.

I worry this could happen to bear habitat in Yellowstone. The State of Arizona made a proposal a few years ago that it could run Grand Canyon. In 1998, until the very last minute, congressional omnibus bill would have allowed the NPS to turn parks over to "partners," for third-party management. If we don't watch it, we will lose our magnificant National Park System in invisible teaspoonfuls.

5. Why should Congress make the decision, as it did at The Presidio, to turn park buildings into semi-private uses? You suggest NPS is more responsible than Congress.

Well, the last 3 Directors of the NPS were appointees of the President, and even those among them who previously worked for the NPS, when appointed by the President they acted more like political appointees than did the famous non-political (and professional) Directors of old.

And, Congress makes the framework of the laws, and ultimately Congress needs to be accountable for a reversal of the fundamental idea behind parks. The historic leasing congressional laws and rules have this loophole in them. This enables the NPS political directors to say they are taking care of the maintenance backlog, while they never are on the record saying they have decided to change, at one park or another, the fundamental management concept governing the National Parks since their birth.

It has always been OK to have a concession or some private contracting going on in a park. It has been OK to house park employees in park buildings for park purposes. Where it gets dangerous is when key park resources -- the nationally significant features that qualified the area to be a park in the first place -- are being used for PRIVATE purposes, purposes that have nothing to do with the purposes Congress set up the park to do. Remember the scandals when the Secretary of the Interior permitted political parties to host events in parks and ESPECIALLY permitted those political partisans to have access to the park the rest of the public was denied? That was a scandal. I can go along with private uses in parks. But not to the point that the private parties can do things denied to park visitors.

again, MY ENTIRE POINT: When NPS decides to close a primary park resource to public access for private purposes because the private person paid NPS to let them do it, I think NPS crosses a line, and needs to make a straightforward public finding that NPS has chosen to cross this bright line, and refer the matter to the Congress for consideration, or at least congressional review.

-- So, Good luck on the Ft. Hancock plan. It is a good deal for the public. I hope the banks lend them the money. I think they should give an award to the Sandy Hook park manager for the initiative.

Dear d-2:

I've been away, and just got a chance to read your reply.

I can't comment on the NPS staff and administration, other than to say that from what I've seen the personnel at the Sandy Hook Unit seem to have done the best that they can with available resources, perhaps hampered by higher-ups.

Without more work than I did for my Asbury Park Press comment, I would say that from my reading of the Gateway Act and other legislation the NPS already has the authority to cross the line in circumstances like this, when they REASONABLY determine that it's necessary. In this case we could still debate whether it would have been better for NPS to try to get the money to restore the buildings [if they didn't], and then go searching for some use for them. I see that as potentially very wasteful.

Look at Fort Hancock this way . . . none of the 36 buildings were ever open to the public, so nothing at all is being closed to the public, a lot will be open for the first time, and everything there, including what the NPS itself and others tenants already on site are utilizing, will benefiit from the synergistic effects of new technology, materials [to the extent Interior and SHPO will allow], suppliers, contractors, etc. concentrated in the area. A true renaissance for the Fort and Sandy Hook. Buildings have been falling down for 35 years - more than half the current lease term. If it doesn't "work," the public gets everything back in 60 years, in a lot better shape than it's ever been.

I could agree that it might be better to insert a step in the process that mandated notice to Congress when NPS felt that it had to "cross the line," sort of like a "fair warning" at an auction. Require that NPS make their best case for what they are going to do, and give Congress a last chance to come up with the money to do something else or accept the consequences, and responsibility, for not having done so.

Here it seems as if opponents, effectively having stalled matters for going on 10 years and not during that whole time proposed any real alternative, simply want to start all over again. Why weren't they pushing legislators to step in with funding for some alternative, instead of pressing for repetitive, useless, investigations, where earlier ones had found that the NPs had clearly acted pursuant to law? Not having done so suggests that in fact the opponents' real purpose is to so delay anything being done that the buildings decay past the point of no return, something that a few are very close to. That's why I avoid reading blogs. Most of the writers simply spew invective and opposition, complaining of payoffs, incompetence, or evil intent, without suggesting that they have an alternative to propose, or have ever accomplished anything on their own. Most here are far better informed than I on issues involving the "Parks," and can at least debate those with different opinions with some respect.

A thought comes to mind as I type, regarding your seeming issue with what's being done with Floyd Bennett Field. I have some fondness for the place as, in searching like many of my Vietnam-era peers for an alternative to the Army, I took the Navy's exams for flight school. Passed with flying colors, except for vision not quite perfect enough. Probably a good thing, as slogging around in the swamps for the better part of a year with 80-90 pounds on my back got me in great shape [at least then and for a number of years thereafter], and flying might well have landed me in the Hanoi Hilton with Senator McCain and his friends. But I digress . . . A year or so back, as I was spending more time than I should looking at the issues involved here, I noted that the Gateway Act [or possibly something else within the legislative history] made wildlife preservation a priority for the Jamaica Bay unit, while it did not do so for any of the others. Opponents of Fort Hancock had argued, with no stated basis, that wildlife at Sandy Hook took precedence over preservation of the Fort's buildings and heritage, and were clearly wrong here. Might have some significance there, although I'm only marginally familiar with what's going on.

Other than to make sure I acknowledge when you seem to have the better of the argument, I don't plan to say any more on this topic.

-- You make a good point about needing to move forward now on the leasing plan. I agree with that, and agree the long delay is unconscionable

-- You make a good point about the legislators and supporters of doing nothing, having an obligation to go and get the funding for Sandy Hook, or shut up. I am aware other members of the congressional delegation in NJ have been very cynical, for example, about the ineffective efforts of the local congressman to get any appreciable funding. Compare that to the funds that the NY congresswoman got in Staten Island for the part of Gateway over there.

-- You make an exactly right point on the difference in the legislation between Jamaica Bay and the rest of Gateway. That legislation also puts an affirmative responsibility on the Secretary of the Interior to identify and organize the preservation of historic structures on Sandy Hook.

thank you for a well informed and stimulating discussion. It would be a great microcosm of all the national parks, except for the really miserable job of drafting the original legislation in the extreme. Few parks have it so bad.

Again, good luck with your high-minded efforts.