Escambia County Land Conveyance Act
STATEMENT OF ROBERT VOGEL, ACTING DEPUTY DIRECTOR, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, CONCERNING S. 1073, TO AUTHORIZE ESCAMBIA COUNTY, FLORIDA, TO CONVEY CERTAIN PROPERTY THAT WAS FORMERLY PART OF SANTA ROSA ISLAND NATIONAL MONUMENT AND THAT WAS CONVEYED TO ESCAMBIA COUNTY SUBJECT TO RESTRICTIONS ON USE AND RECONVEYANCE.
July 19, 2017
Chairman Daines, Ranking Member Hirono, and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the Department of the Interior’s position on S. 1073, to authorize Escambia County, Florida, to convey certain property that was formerly part of Santa Rosa Island National Monument and that was conveyed to Escambia County subject to restrictions on use and reconveyance.
The Department supports S. 1073.
S. 1073 would provide authority to Escambia County to convey property, subject to certain conditions, that it received from the Federal government in 1947. The bill is intended to resolve a longstanding land use issue for the county, which the Department supports.
S. 1073 would supersede the Act of July 30, 1946, which deauthorized the Santa Rosa Island National Monument in the State of Florida and authorized the transfer of the Federal lands administered by the Department of the Interior to Escambia County. The Act of 1946 placed restrictions on the use of the lands, specifying that they must be used for purposes deemed in the public interest, and that they may not be conveyed by Escambia County except to the Federal government or the State of Florida. Pursuant to the 1946 Act, on January 15, 1947, the lands on Santa Rosa Island were transferred to Escambia County. In 1971, the Gulf Islands National Seashore was established, and the boundary of the National Seashore includes all of Santa Rosa Island.
S. 1073 pertains to those portions of Santa Rosa Island within the boundary of, but not owned or managed by, Gulf Islands National Seashore: a nine-mile segment in Escambia County known as Pensacola Beach and a four-mile segment in Santa Rosa County known as Navarre Beach. In 1956, Escambia County leased Navarre Beach to Santa Rosa County. The State of Florida modified the county boundaries in 1991, placing Navarre Beach within the jurisdiction of Santa Rosa County. However, the Navarre Beach lands remained in Escambia County ownership due to the restrictions on reconveyance contained in the 1946 Act.
Communities have been developed at Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach under leases granted by the counties. These are primarily comprised of privately owned residential structures. The developed lands within these communities do not retain any of the natural character and public access that existed at the time of their conveyance from the Federal government. The National Park Service has no concerns with these developed lands being conveyed into private ownership, thus allowing the counties the benefit of having the lands on the tax rolls and allowing the federal government the benefit of any profits from the conveyances.
Escambia County and Santa Rosa County have also elected to protect certain lands within Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach from development. Through the efforts of the county commissions, these undeveloped portions of Pensacola Beach and Navarre Beach have been excluded from commercial or residential development, and remain today in their pristine, natural, condition, providing vital wildlife habitat, guaranteed public access, and outstanding opportunities for public recreation. We support and appreciate the continued efforts of the counties to preserve this wildlife habitat and the recreation opportunities it provides, as many of these undeveloped lands directly adjoin lands owned and managed by Gulf Islands National Seashore, and strongly support maintaining these protections in perpetuity.
Chairman Daines, this concludes my statement. I would be pleased to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee might have.