Congressman Seeks Stimulus Funds For Restoration Work at Gateway National Recreation Area

A congressman from New Jersey wants the National Park Service to dedicate some of its economic stimulus funds to restoring Fort Hancock at Gateway National Recreation Area. NPS photo.

A congressman from New Jersey hopes he can convince the National Park Service to spend some of its economic stimulus funds on historic restoration work at Fort Hancock in Gateway National Recreation Area.

In a letter somewhat curiously addressed to Mary Bomar, who resigned as NPS director back in January, Congressman Frank Pallone notes that the Park Service has "access to $589 million provided for the repair of historical resources within the system."

"Fort Hancock is a former United States Army fort located in Middletown Township in Monmouth County, along the Atlantic coast of eastern New Jersey. The fort has tremendous historical significance to the state of New Jersey and its historic integrity should be preserved," he adds.

The request is just the latest chapter in a long-running debate over how Fort Hancock's decaying architecture could be preserved. Back in 2001 the National Park Service gave a 60-year lease on 34 historic buildings in Fort Hancock to Jim Wassel, a developer who wanted to transform the buildings into restaurants, bed-and-breakfast units, office space, and class rooms.

However, the Park Service has wound up giving the developer extension after extension on the lease because he's been unable to secure financing for the $70 million-$90 million project. Mr. 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 Park Service lacks the financial wherewithal to restore and maintain them.

A small non-profit, Save Sandy Hook, has tried to block the developer, saying it would be inappropriate to commercialize the post-Civil War fort. However, last September a federal appellate court in New Jersey upheld a lower court's opinion that the Park Service was within its rights to lease the buildings.

Congressman Pallone joined the fight when he learned of the commercialization plans, agreeing with Save Sandy Hook that they were inappropriate. In his letter to the Park Service, the Democrat points out that "(T)here have been serious questions regarding Mr. Wassel's ability to produce the necessary funds to move forward with the three-phase project."

"Those fears have been realized over the last four years as NPS has granted Mr. Wassel repeated lease extensions due to (Sandy Hook Partner's) lack of financial resources," he adds. "The fact that SHP has consistently been unable to show proof of financing, something that should have been required by NPS before his lease was initially extended, should be enough for NPS to cancel the current lease.

"The funds available through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act are a tremendous opportunity to finally turn the page in what has been a process full of setbacks. I encourage the National Park Service to immediately request the appropriate funds to begin the restoration of the historic buildings at Fort Hancock."

The congressman did not in his letter mention a specific dollar figure for Gateway.

Meanwhile, Park Service officials at Gateway are developing plans to install a floating dock at Fort Hancock, one that could handle both passenger ferries and possibly research vessels associated with Rutgers University's Mid-Atlantic Bight National Undersea Research Center.

Comments

The key line in this letter to Mary Bomar is:

"The fort has tremendous historical significance to the state of New Jersey."

The national significance of these decayed and moldering military buildings is next to nil and as such are perfectly suited for the federal stimulus funds freshly printed out of thin air by our beneficent and thoughtful masters down on the Potomac.

The sooner all of this wasteful spending commences the sooner this silly and disastrous charade will come to an end. I say spend away. Crumbling barracks in NJ are as good as bridges to nowhere as long as the, so called, "stimulating" effects of this worthless currency are put into circulation. Wise are the people in charge who have cooked this plan up. I await the results with great relish.

.... last September a federal appellate court in New Jersey upheld a lower court's opinion that the Park Service was within its rights to lease the buildings.

With the political climate and goings-on of today, it is not insignificant to remind everyone wherever we can that CITIZENS have rights. Government has POWERS specifically delegated to them. In this case it would be preferred to say NPS was acting "within its discretion," or "within its power."

Estimates for Fort Hancock restoration have been reported at $60-70 million, or roughly 10% of the total to be made "available" to NPS. While I disagree with Beamis on the historic significance of the Fort, I would concede that there are far greater priorities within the system.

To state that "Congressman Pallone joined the fight when he learned of the commercialization plans" is misleading. Congressman Pallone some time ago supported a far more extensive development and "commercialization" of Fort Hancock, including, as I recall, a proposal for a large hotel and convention center, so it would appear to be more a case of "who" than "what," raising issues of how he might be beholden to Mrs. Stanley-Coleman, a (once) local political power.

Kurt's noting that the letter was addessed to Mary Bomar highlights Congressman Pallone's lack of serious attention to this matter. Had this been other than political posturing, the Congressman would have made sure that he and his staff were familiar with her and hers, and been more knowledgeable of the issues.

First, yes, if all the restoration of Ft. Hancock COULD be achieved with the stimulus package, bring it on.

These are splendid structures, and in their own right are designated National Historic Landmarks. It is silly to challenge their significance, inasmuch as they independentally were designated NHLs -- with criteria equal to a national park in distinction -- with no questionable Congressional thumb on the scale. Ft. Hancock was already an NHL before the national park service came into the picture.

If the national park service would fight for the Stimulus money, design sustainable energy-efficient restorations, and secure funding for modest continued maintenance, these buildings could be made available to a wide array of non-profit groups who's missions are similar to the park service's.

Those non-profit groups would have had an incentive to support greater Stimulus funding for national parks; imagine, with the kind of leadership the park service once had, if energized supporters for Stimulus for Ft. Hancock was repeated hundreds of times on behalf of parks throughout the Country. But the chain of command has been stripped of energetic and imaginative people, and must be restored if the park service is ever to be ready again when the opportunities happen. None of the great work of the national park system could have been accomplished with the kind of passive leaders installed during the Bush Administration, which of course was the point. Those people are still there, and the fact the NPS could not fight effectively for full Stimulus funding really makes it all very clear.

Second, as Water Witch rather gently points out, Congressman Pallone's behaviour has been not just craven, but destructive without being effective. A real Congressman would have made sure that the national park service absolutely understood the need for Ft. Hancock development to be fully included in the Stimulus package. But this is nothing new. Pallone NEVER fought effectively for funding for Ft. Hanock. All he did was undermine the efforts by the NPS to get funds any way they could, even though he reversed his support when donors came out against the project. Other New Jersey Members of Congress of his own Party are known to complain how poorly they regard Pallone's real contributions. Even if the park service leaders in new york/new jersey WERE motivated and able, why spend time with a major park project when the congressman there cannot hold up his end?? There are other fish to fry.

Third, years ago the key staff person for the Washington Office for the national park service (who was reviewing the fund raising effort to make sure it complied with the highly complicated park service rules [IT DID]), argued that Gateway should just request the funding through the normal construction funding process. The park people at Sandy Hook/Ft. Hancock would have been delighted for Ft. Hancock to be the funding priority for Gateway, for the Regional Office and for the Washington office. The problem is, the Gateway managers were not paying attention to Sandy Hook. Nothing about Pallone encouraged them to make the New Jersey unit a priority. Susan Molinari had made sure the Staten Island projects at Ft. Wadsworth WERE priorities. Then-congressman Charles Schumer showed continued interest in the projects around Jamaica Bay in Long Island.

The local Ft. Hancock park managers are doing the best they can, without the aggressive and imaginative support of their Congressman or the top brass for the new york/new jersey parks. The best solution WOULD be Stimulus funding, designed to minimize long-term maintenance. Without that, they need to push for funding from non-government sources. Pallone should demonstrate some leadership and decide to support one, or support the other.

The "developer," Sandy Hook Partners, has in fact committed to "design sustainable energy-efficient restorations." The architect working with SHP is Robert Kellner, AIA, a graduate of Arizona State University, with graduate research in solar and energy-conscious design. ASU has been a leader in this field, their program being featured a year ago in an episode of NBC’s Nightly News.

School of Sustainability Featured on NBC Nightly News
NBC Nightly News
3/24/2008
NBC visited Arizona State University in February 2008 to explore in depth the nation's first School of Sustainability. Their report aired nationally March 24, 2008, on NBC Nightly News. Interviews with students, professors, and administrators shed light on challenges facing this generation of students, opportunities that await graduates, and how ASU's School of Sustainability prepares students for the future.

A link to that Nightly News program can be found at: http://sustainability.asu.edu/gios/news/archive.htm