STATEMENT OF STEPHEN E. WHITESELL, ASSOCIATE DIRECTOR, PARK PLANNING, FACILITIES, AND LANDS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS OF THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES COMMITTEE CONCERNING S. 535, A BILL TO AUTHORIZE THE SECRETARY OF THE INTERIOR TO LEASE CERTAIN LANDS WITHIN FORT PULASKI NATIONAL MONUMENT, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
MAY 11, 2011
Mr. Chairman, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 535, a bill to authorize the Secretary of the Interior to lease certain lands within Fort Pulaski National Monument, and for other purposes.
The Department supports this legislation, which would allow the Savannah Bar Pilots Association to lease the land on Cockspur Island within Fort Pulaski National Monument in the State of Georgia that the association has used continuously since 1940.
In 1940, the National Park Service authorized by special use permit exclusive use of National Park Service land and improvements to the Savannah Bar Pilots Association to operate a vessel piloting business. The National Park Service has issued a series of permit renewals during the ensuing 70 years. However, in recent years, the National Park Service has been advised by the Department's Solicitor's Office that the association's use of this land should be based on more certain legal authority than the special use permitting process. The National Park Service believes that a non-competitive lease, which would be authorized by S. 535, would be the best option in this unique circumstance to enable the Savannah Bar Pilots Association to continue traditional operations from its Fort Pulaski location. The Bar Pilots serve a function that is vital to the state's deepwater ports and inland barge terminals, including directing ship traffic and assisting in navigation in the Savannah Harbor.
There are no other known locations from which Savannah Bar Pilots Association can operate more efficiently than its current location.Deep water accessibility and the relatively short distance to embarking and disembarking ships in Savannah Harbor render the current Cockspur Island site the ideal location for continued operations. The Savannah Bar Pilots have been operating at the current location with virtually no adverse impact on park resources, on the visitor experience, or on park operations. Fort Pulaski National Monument derives revenue from the current special use permit and would continue to do so from a lease.The Savannah Bar Pilots enjoy local support from both the City of Savannah and the Georgia Port Authority.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my prepared remarks.I would be pleased to answer any questions you or any members of the subcommittee may have.