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Fort Monroe National Park – Governor and Senators make case during Congressional hearing
Virginia's governor and U.S. Senators, along with spectators at Langley Air Force Base, pressed the case Wednesday for a national park to be created at Fort Monroe.
Gov. Bob McDonnell used part of his private 10-minute meeting with President Obama after the president's speech at Langley to lobby on behalf of Fort Monroe becoming a national park.
"I talked to him about the national park. Of course, he noticed my green tie," the governor joked. "I'm hopeful that something is going to happen. There seems to be good vibes we've gotten from the federal government over the last couple of months."
He said Obama made no commitment, but the president understands the level of support in the community and around the state.
"It's going to have to take its time," the governor said. "There are a lot of financial and regulatory issues to work through."
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner also wore a green tie Wednesday — jokingly described by his communications director Kevin Hall described as a "hideously ugly" green tie — to a Senate subcommittee meeting in Washington.
Warner urged rapid passage of legislation he sponsored with U.S. Sen. Mark Warner to establish a unit of the National Park Service at Fort Monroe.
"The site of Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort … has been witness to centuries of American history," Webb said during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing.
"The Fort Monroe National Historical Park will provide jobs, tourism and public recreation in a scenic urban park to not only Hampton Roads, but to our state and nation at large.
"Time is of the essence for this legislation. The sooner the legislation is considered and passed, the sooner the National Parks Service can coordinate with the Army's final efforts and thereby ensure the most cost effective transition and implementation of a new NPS site."
Webb and Warner introduced the Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act on June 29. It would authorize the National Park Service to establish a national park presence at in Hampton and preserve historic and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.
Similar legislation was introduced in the House by U.S. Rep. Scott Rigell (R-Virginia Beach) and supported by U.S. Rep. Robert C. "Bobby" Scott (D-Newport News).
Terrie Suit, who chairs the board of the Fort Monroe Authority also addressed the committee, saying: "Fort Monroe is one of the most important cultural treasures not only in the Commonwealth of Virginia, but in the entire nation."
Warner described Fort Monroe as a "true cultural and historical treasure."
"It is important to note the outpouring of local support for the creation of a National Park Service unit at Fort Monroe," he said.
Some of that local support could be seen Wednesday morning near the Armistead Avenue entrance to Langley. Several spectators gathered from President Obama's arrival to remind him of their wishes that Fort Monroe be made into a national park.
"It's the best way to save one of America's best-kept secrets," said Sam Martin, a member of the Citizens for a Fort Monroe National Park group.
"It has everything," said group member Joanne Berkley. "People need to enjoy it."
Hampton Mayor Molly Joseph Ward, who cancelled her appearance before the subcommittee because of the president's visit, also wants to persuade the president to designate part of Fort Monroe as a national park or as a national monument under the Antiquities Act.
Ward submitted a written statement to the subcommittee.
Under the Antiquities Act, the president can create a national monument that likely would bring a National Park Service presence to Fort Monroe almost immediately. The congressional route to create a National Park is expected to take several years.
Martin said he hopes at least 340 of the 565 acres of the former Army post will be designated for a national park. However, he said he is realistic that some private development also could be placed at the site.