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Debate swirls over federal control of Fort Monroe
By Kate Wiltrout
For months, state officials, congressional staffers and National Park Service bureaucrats have made steady progress on the future of Fort Monroe, with the groups sharing a general vision for park service involvement.
The Army will vacate the waterfront post in September, the result of a 2005 base-closing decision. Control and management of the historic 570-acre property, which includes a moat-encircled stone fort and some 170 historic buildings, will shift to the state.
Many local residents and leaders want to see the property managed by the park service.
On Thursday, the chairwoman of the board of trustees overseeing the fort's transition to state control voiced caution about moving too fast and expecting too much from the park service.
"It's not a slam dunk," Terrie Suit told 11 fellow members of the Fort Monroe Authority's board of trustees and a few dozen citizens. "It could be a four- to five-year process."
She also urged restraint in seeking too large a role from the federal government, which has maintained that it doesn't have the money to manage the entire property.
Doug Domenech, a board member and the state's secretary of natural resources, also expressed concerns.
"I think we need to be careful how much we put on the table for the park service, because once they're there, they're never going to go away," Domenech said.
During a public comment period, Steve Corneliussen, a member of Citizens for Fort Monroe National Park, told the board that people want the park service to be involved for the long haul.
"Yes, indeed, sir, the National Park Service never goes away. That's the point," Corneliussen said. "It gives a certain stability."
After the meeting, the authority's historic preservation officer and a consultant with long experience in the park service said Suit doesn't need to be overly concerned with how long it may take to iron out an agreement.
"This is not like putting a 'normal' national park together," said Cherilynn Widell, the authority's historic preservation officer. The park service has acknowledged that Fort Monroe merits special attention because of the Army's deadline to leave.
There are two ways a property can be added to the National Park Service: through a congressional vote, or a presidential proclamation. Congressional approval is much more common than having the president invoke the Antiquities Act of 1906 to create a new park, said John J. Reynolds, a consultant for the authority.
The board deferred voting on a specific vision for the park service's involvement until its legislative committee, chaired by board member and Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, has a chance to discuss options with state and federal officials.
"I would like to see us expand what we're expecting from the NPS in their primary area of interest," Ward said. "I don't think we should stop here and say, 'This is all we could get, or all we should get.' "
Kate Wiltrout, (757) 446-2629, email@example.com