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Editorial: Obama's park boost
Daily Press, August 16, 2011
President Obama may be the latest and most influential entrant into the Fort Monroe national park service (NPS) sweepstakes. He could convert a section of Fort Monroe to national monument status with one stroke of his presidential pen on Sept. 15. That's the day the Army transfers control of the base to the state of Virginia.
Staffers on Capitol Hill say Obama is looking seriously at proclaiming Fort Monroe's northern sphere - locally referred to as "Dog Beach" - as a national monument because it's undisputed federally owned land.
"I know they are close to making a decision because we are now discussing the details of what that designation would entail," said Terrie Suit, a former state Republican legislator from Virginia Beach who serves as secretary of veterans affairs and homeland security for the Commonwealth.
The president has the authority to designate the federally owned land as a national monument under the 1906 Antiquities Act. Fort Monroe is rich in Civil War and African-American history. It also contains several miles of some of the most pristine beaches in the region. Those would soon be completely open to the public if Obama gives the executive order.
Obama's proclamation is a first step to accelerate the corresponding legislative push to designate much of Fort Monroe's land tract as a national park site. Converting the 200-year-old former military outpost to NPS has earned bi-partisan support from the entire Virginia congressional delegation. It also gained the backing of Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell and a plethora of local elected officials and business leaders.
The bill, HR-2456, introduced in the House by Rep. Scott Rigell (R-VA) and co-sponsored by Virginia Reps. Bobby Scott (D) and Rob Wittman (R), is complimentary legislation to what Sens. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Jim Webb (D-VA) co-authored in the upper chamber.
Once Obama goes the monument route, McDonnell can relinquish his right of title to the land and give it back to the feds under the Commonwealth's "reverter" provision. The General Assembly specifically empowered the governor with this level of authority in the 2011 session. Then Obama can designate more of Fort Monroe as a national monument, providing area residents and tourists with most of the benefits and public access levels it would achieve as a national park almost immediately.
Rigell says the park service estimates a cost of $600,000 per year to operate and maintain Fort Monroe for the first five years.
"Our intent is to offset the cost of the park and make it budget neutral by finding funds elsewhere in the budget to reallocate to Fort Monroe."
"There are some things we just have to find the money to do," said Hampton Mayor Molly Ward, who also serves on the Fort Monroe Authority board of directors. "Its history represents the beginning and end of slavery in this country, and its beaches and foliage are magnificent."
Del. Glen Oder (R-94), who is leaving his statehouse seat on Aug. 30 to take over as executive director of the Fort Monroe Authority, lauded the NPS legislation as thrilling. "Everything about making Fort Monroe a national park site is positive," Oder said. "Local businesses get a boost, property values go up, the public gets 570 acres of wonderful waterfront beach access and it improves the economy of the entire region."
We encourage President Obama to proclaim "Dog Beach" as a national monument. Further, we support the legislative efforts of our congressional delegation to turn over as much of Fort Monroe's land to the NPS as the agency deems appropriate and economically feasible to maintain.
Fort Monroe's conversion to national park status will not only ensure the longtime preservation of its compelling role in our nation's history, it will provide us all with the opportunity to enjoy one of the most cherished natural areas in the Commonwealth.