The National Defense Authorization Act and Public Lands

By Special Contributor posted 12-16-2014 11:41


By Denise Ryan

On December 12, Congress passed the National Defense Authorization Act which includes more than 60 provisions relating to public lands and natural resources. This is the first time Congress has taken action on public lands since 2009, when it designated Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park, President William Jefferson Clinton Birthplace Home National Historic Site, and River Raisin National Battlefield Park and passed more than 150 other public lands provisions. New legislation to designate additional parks has been introduced since then, but has been on hold because some members of Congress objected to increasing the number of new parks. That hold was recently broken by adding these measures to a “must-pass” defense authorization bill—a bill that has passed every year for the last 50 years. Now the bill is on its way to the president’s desk, and he is expected to sign it into law soon.

The passage of this bill marks important victories for two of the National Trust’s National Treasures: the Manhattan Project Sites in New Mexico, Tennessee and Washington and Hinchliffe Stadium in New Jersey. With this bill Congress sets the process in motion to establish the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park within a year. The Manhattan Project sites were top secret locations where the atom bomb was developed, ultimately ending World War II and launching the Cold War era. The Manhattan Project National Historical Park is one of only a few national parks that recognize American science and technology. The bill also expands the boundaries of Paterson Great Falls National Historical Park to include Hinchliffe Stadium, the only National Historic Landmark in baseball and one of the few remaining sports venues associated with Negro League Baseball.

The bill also establishes several more national parks, expands other national parks, and authorizes new national park studies to determine the suitability and feasibility for potential addition to the National Park System.

The bill also includes one provision that negatively affects public lands. It authorizes the Southeast Arizona Land Exchange which allows the Resolution Copper Mining Company to mine 760 acres of Oak Flats in Arizona’s Tonto National Forest. In exchange, the mining company will give other conservation lands to the U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management for conservation purposes. Oak Flats had been withdrawn from potential mining by both President Eisenhower and President Nixon, and it is sacred to the Apache and many other American Indian tribes of the Southwest. This provision circumvents a myriad of federal laws meant to protect public lands and their resources including the National Historic Preservation Act, the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, the Archaeological Resources Protection Act, and other federal laws enacted by Congress to help protect the traditional, religious and cultural practices of Indian tribes.

National Park Units Established:

  • Tule Springs National Monument in Las Vegas, Nevada. This National Register site is an archaeological and vertebrate paleontological site within the city of Las Vegas. It is where the first radio-carbon testing was used to determine the age of the fossils found there.

  • Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in Rhode Island and Massachusetts. This park will include Slatersville Historic District, Ashton Historic District, Whitinsville Historic District, Hopedale Village Historic District, the Blackstone Canal and the Blackstone River and its tributaries.

  • Coltsville National Historical Park in Hartford, Connecticut. The establishment of the park is delayed until certain specified conditions have been met, including the City of Hartford and/or private property owner enter into agreement with the Secretary of the Interior to donate at least 10,000 square feet of space in the East Armory. The park may include interpretation and viewing of the following sites: the Church of the Good Shepherd, the Caldwell/Colt Memorial Parish House, Colt Park, the Potsdam Cottages, Armsmear and the James Colt House.

  • Harriet Tubman National Historical Park in Auburn, New York. The establishment of this park is delayed until the Secretary of the Interior determines that a sufficient quantity of land or interests in land have been acquired to constitute a manageable park. This park will include the Harriet Tubman Home, the Tubman Home for the Aged, the Thompson Memorial AME Zion Church and Rectory and the associated land.

  • The Valles Caldera National Preserve in New Mexico. This site is established as a unit of the National Park System, and transfers ownership and management from the National Forest Service. This preserve includes roughly 89,000 acres of land which is designated to protect the natural, wildlife, historic, cultural, archaeological and recreational values of the area. The Secretary of the Interior shall continue to provide access to the sites used by members of Indian tribes or pueblos for traditional and customary uses.

Additions, Expansions or Re-designation of National Park Units:

  • Adds Ashland Harbor Breakwater Light Station to Apostle Island National Seashore in Wisconsin.

  • Redesignates the First State National Monument in Delaware as a National Historical Park and authorizes additional sites for inclusion.

  • Redesignates the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad National Monument in Maryland as a National Historical Park.

  • Expands Gettysburg National Military Park in Pennsylvania to include the Gettysburg Train Station, known as the Lincoln Train Station, where the president arrived for the dedication of the National Cemetery.

  • Expands the Lower East Side Tenement Museum National Historic Site in New York to include the structure at 103 Orchard Street as well as the present-day structure at 97 Orchard Street.

  • Expands San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas to include an additional 137 acres of land.

  • Expands Vicksburg National Military Park in Mississippi to allow the Secretary of the Interior to acquire lands within the “Modified Core Battlefield” for Port Gibson Unit, Champion Hill Unit and the Raymond Unit.

  • Expands the boundaries of North Cascades National Park for a 100 foot-wide corridor along which the Stehekin Valley Road may be rebuilt.

  • Expands Oregon Caves National Monument and Preserve to add more than 4,000 acres to be managed as the National Preserve and transfers jurisdiction from the U.S. Forest Service to the National Park Service.

Other Public Lands and Historic Preservation-Related Provisions:

  • Extends the authorization of the American Battlefield Protection Program through 2021 with modifications to include Revolutionary War and War of 1812 sites.

  • Extends the authorization of several existing National Heritage Areas through 2021 including MotorCities National Heritage Area, the Last Green Valley National Heritage Corridor, and makes amendments to the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Area.

  • Authorizes the Secretary of the Interior to make improvements to certain support facilities, including visitor centers at national historic sites that meet specified criteria.

  • Establishes guidelines for the National Park Service to accept and acknowledge donations to the National Park Service and Park System.

  • Authorizes the Secretary of the Treasury to mint and issue gold and silver coins to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service.

National Park Special Resources Studies:

  • Lower Mississippi River, Louisiana, including Fort St. Philip, Fort Jackson, the Head of Passes and related and supporting historical, cultural or recreational resource located in Plaquemines Parish.

  • Rota, Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and the prehistoric, historic and limestone forests of the island.

  • Prison Ship Martyrs’ Monument in Fort Greene Park, Brooklyn, New York.

  • Flushing Remonstrance in New York, which includes the John Bowne House and the Friends Meeting House in Queens and other resources relating to the history of religious freedom in the Dutch colony of New Netherland.

  • West Hunter Street Baptist Church and the block on which the church is located in Atlanta, Georgia.

  • Mill Springs Battlefield in Kentucky, including the area encompassed by the National Historic Landmark designations relating to the 1862 Battle of Mill Springs located in Pulaski and Wayne Counties.

  • New Philadelphia, Illinois, a free African-American city founded in 1836 and now an archaeological site.

  • Buffalo Soldiers in the National Park System generally including evaluation of appropriate was to enhance historical research, education, interpretation and public awareness of the Buffalo Soldiers in the National Parks.

Denise Ryan is the Director for Public Lands Policy at the National Trust for Historic Preservation

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