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Updated: Republicans Criticize New National Monuments.....And Push For National Historical Park
Editor's note: This updates with details on how the National Park Service acquired three new national monuments, budgetary issues, and comment from New Mexico residents that counters Rep. Bishop's assertion that the public wasn't involved in the decision to create the Rio Grande del Norte National Monument.
No out-of-pocket expenses were required by the National Park Service to take control of three national monuments designated this week by President Obama, and contrary to claims by two Republican congressmen many members of the public supported the designations.
Properties for the First State National Monument in Delaware and the Harriet Tubman and the Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland were donated at no cost to the Park Service, according to the Park Service and The Conservation Fund, which arranged the donations through a $20 million charitable gift and preservation easements bestowed by the state and local governments in Delaware.
"There were no acquisition costs by the National Park Service," Mike Litterest, a public affairs specialist in the agency's Washington, D.C., headquarters, said Tuesday afternoon during a phone call.
As for the Charles Young Buffalo Soldiers National Monument in Ohio, the National Park Foundation came up with nearly $700,000 from its African American Experience Fund to purchase Col. Young's home in Wilberforce, Ohio, from the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity's Friendship Foundation. Col. Young was a member of the Omega fraternity.
"It is an honor to help bring this historic landmark into its rightful place in the National Park System," said Neil Mulholland, president and CEO of the National Park Foundation. "Col. Charles Young is an indelible figure in our nation's history and the African American legacy. We are proud to help raise awareness of his remarkable story through this valuable donation."
U.S. Reps. Doc Hastings, R-Washington, and Rob Bishop, R-Utah, had complained that President Obama was designating these monuments and two others on U.S. Bureau of Land Management lands at a time when the federal government can least afford the cost, and that he sidestepped the public process in doing so.
Mr. Litterst said that while there will be some operating costs for the rest of this fiscal year for each of the monuments, he said they will be covered from within current NPS budgets in the regions where the monuments are located.
"As far as operating costs, they're going to be minimal at each of them. There are acting superintendents that are being assigned to each of the sites," he said. "Since they don't have the authority to spend money, since they don't have a budget, the long-term budgets are being formulated now and should show up when the 2014 budget comes out."
The acting superintendents will be responsible for crafting management plans that would detail staffing levels and budgets, said Mr. Litterest.
In separate press releases Reps. Hastings and Bishop attacked the president's use of the Antiquities Act to designate the monuments.
"If these designations are worthy of implementation, then they should stand up on their own merits during the open and fair Congressional process, which prioritizes public input. The use of the Antiquities Act cuts out public participation. There is a right way to designate federal lands, and there is a wrong way. Executive fiat is unquestionably the wrong way and is an abuse of executive privilege," Mr. Bishop said in a press release.
Mr. Hastings focused his comments on the First State National Monument in Delaware, complaining that, “The Obama Administration not only sees the sequester as an opportunity to make automatic spending reductions as painful as possible on the American people, it’s also a good time for the President to dictate under a century-old law that the government spend money it doesn’t have on property it doesn’t even own.
"President Obama has closed the White House to public tours but he’s unilaterally ordering the National Park Service to spend scarce dollars on little-known, privately-owned property in Delaware," said the Republican, who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee.
Mr. Hastings' comments Monday came 10 days after he pointed to bipartisan support in reintroducing legislation that would create a Manhattan Project National Historical Park, with units of the park in Washington state, New Mexico, and Tennessee. The release did not outline how that park would be paid for.
"The establishment of this park will ensure that this history is preserved and that facilities, such as Hanford’s B Reactor, will remain open and accessible for future generations to visit," Mr. Hastings said March 15 in a press release.
In his denouncement of the five new monuments, Mr. Bishop, while questioning how the government could afford these properties, also said the president's reliance on the Antiquities Act denied the public its role in weighing in on the value of these monuments.
However, not only have Delaware officials long sought a unit of the National Park System, but the New Mexico Wildlife Federation, along with northern New Mexico leaders, pushed back against the Utah Republican, claiming he, as chairman of the House's subcommittee on national parks and public lands, had refused to schedule a hearing on the proposal.
“Contrary to Rep. Bishop’s statements, the idea of protecting Rio Grande del Norte has been widely discussed and strongly supported by the people who live in the affected region,” said Max Trujillo of the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. “Rep. Bishop’s reaction seems guided by his own anti-conservation ideology and ignores the reality that President Obama’s action comes only after years of inaction by Congress. The president is simply using the authority granted by law to give this region what local residents have sought for so long.”
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar also attended a public meeting in Taos, New Mexico, last December 14 that drew nearly 200 area residents who supported the designation. And in a letter to Congress and the White House sent in December, more than 100 northern New Mexico business owners supported monument designation as a boon to the local economy.
“One of the great things about national monuments is that they attract visitors who book trips with outfitters, eat in restaurants, stay in lodges and spend money in stores,” said Francisco Guevara, a lifelong Taos County resident and owner of Los Rios River Runners, in a release. “My business and hundreds of others, and the livelihood of our employees, will be helped by the designation of Rio Grande del Norte as a national monument.”
Supporters of the national monument include the Taos County Commission, Taos Town Council, Taos Pueblo, state legislators, local businesses and chambers of commerce, as well as ranchers, sportsmen, veterans, and Boy Scouts.
Phone and email messages left by the Traveler for both Mr. Hastings and Mr. Bishop to further explain their positions on the monuments and the historical park proposal have not been returned.