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.