March 14, 2013


House subcommittee hears testimony on Jones bill

By IRENE NOLAN



The U.S. House of Representatives Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation today heard testimony on a bill introduced last month by Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C., to overturn both the National Park Service’s final rule for off-road vehicles on the Cape Hatteras National Seashore and a court-approved consent decree that settled a lawsuit filed against the Park Service by environmental groups.

H.R. 819, The Preserving Access to the Cape Hatteras National Seashore Recreational Area Act, would return management of seashore resources to the Interim Protected Species Management Strategy and Environmental Assessment, issued by the Park Service on June 13, 2007.

The legislation was the same as the bill Jones introduced last year and the two years before that.

The witnesses were the same as they were last year with just one exception.  Testifying in favor of the bill were Jones and Warren Judge, chairman of the Dare County Board of Commissioners.  Testifying against was Herbert Frost, associate director of natural resource stewardship and science for the Department of Interior, and Derb Carter, lead attorney for the Southern Environmental Law Center.  The only member of the panel missing this year was John Couch, president of the Outer Banks Preservation Association, apparently because the subcommittee limited witnesses this year since three bills were before it.

And the arguments they made for and against the bill were basically the same ones they have made before.

“This bill is about jobs and taxpayers’ right to access the recreational areas they own,” Jones said in his testimony. H. R. 819 will restore balance and common sense Park Service management in Cape Hatteras National Recreational Area.”

Jones said the legislation would give taxpayers more reasonable access to the lands they own and would boost the local economy, which he said had suffered with the more extensive beach closures under the consent decree and ORV plan.

Frost made the same points in his testimony as he did last year.

“The Department supports allowing appropriate public use and access at the seashore to the greatest extent possible,” he said, “while also ensuring protection for the seashore’s wildlife and providing a variety of visitor use experiences, minimizing conflicts among various users, and promoting the safety of all visitors.

“We strongly believe that the final ORV Management Plan /Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) and special regulation are accomplishing these objectives far better than the defunct Interim Strategy. Contrary to some reports, there is not now and never has been a ban on ORVs at the seashore. The great majority of the beach is open to ORVs, visitation is rising, and tourist revenues are at record levels. At the same time, beach-nesting birds and sea turtles are finally showing much-needed improvements.”

Carter’s arguments against the bill were the same ones he made in last year’s testimony and in other statements and media releases on the success of the consent decree and ORV plan.

His message is that since the consent decree became effective on April 30, 2008, visitation to the park has increased, Dare County’s economy is flourishing, and nesting birds and turtles are more successful than ever.  And he emphasized the extensive public involvement in formulating the final regulation.

Judge emphasized the extensive public involvement in the Interim Plan and that it went through a required review under the National Environmental Policy Act and that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service supported the plan with a Biological Opinion.

He stressed that occupancy taxes have been up in Dare County in recent years, but that those numbers do not accurately reflect the economic hits taken by the Hatteras Island businesses closest to the beach closures.

And he noted that while nesting may have been more successful for birds and turtles since 2008, the former seashore superintendent Mike Murray is on record as saying, “It’s too early to tell” whether that is because of the more extensive closures.

The opponents of the Jones’ bill got some friendly questions from Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., and Rush Holt, D-N.J.

However, subcommittee chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, came down on the Park Service, much as he did at last year’s hearing.

He said H.R. 819 is “another bill that shouldn’t be here” and that the issues should have been resolved at a local level.

The problem, he said, comes down to a simple issue of “overreach by the federal government.”

The Park Service came under more withering fire during questioning of the witnesses on the other two bills that were part of the hearing.

H.R. 588, would provide for donor contribution acknowledgments at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Center.  Current Park Service regulation prohibits the acknowledgments.  H.R. 716, directs the Interior secretary to convey the Pearson Aviation Museum Complex back to the city of Vancouver, Wash.

During questioning for these bills, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, said the Park Service was “badly managed” and “arrogant.”

“I don’t understand where the arrogance comes from,” said Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska.

Bishop called the Park Service “authoritarian, arrogant, and autocratic."

Bishop added that there was no reason the Pearson Aviation Museum Complex bill should before Congress.

“There’s no reason this bill, as the next bill (Jones’ bill) should be here, other than a failure by the National Park Service.” 

FOR MORE INFORMATION

Click here to read testimony by Herbert Frost of the Department of Interior.
Click here to read the testimony of Dare County Commission Chairman Warren Judge.
Click here to read the testimony of Derb Carter of the Southern Environmental Law Center.
For more information on the bills or the subcommittee, go to http://naturalresources.house.gov/subcommittees/subcommittee/?SubcommitteeID=5064.

Burr and Hagan reintroduce bill to overturn ORV plan in Senate
Jones reintroduces bill to overturn both Park Service final rule on ORVs

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