A bill to modify the boundary of Petersburg National Battlefield in the Commonwealth of Virginia
STATEMENT OF PEGGY O’DELL, DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR OPERATIONS, NATIONAL PARK SERVICE, U.S. DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR, BEFORE THE SENATE SUBCOMMITTEE ON NATIONAL PARKS, COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND NATURAL RESOURCES, CONCERNING S. 718, A BILL TO MODIFY THE BOUNDARY OF PETERSBURG NATIONAL BATTLEFIELD IN THE COMMONWEALTH OF VIRGINIA, AND FOR OTHER PURPOSES.
March 17, 2016
Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to present the views of the Department of the Interior on S. 718, a bill to modify the boundary of Petersburg National Battlefield in the Commonwealth of Virginia, and for other purposes.
The Department supports S. 718 with amendments described later in this statement.
S. 718 has two components. First, the bill would expand the authorized boundary of Petersburg National Battlefield by approximately 7,238 acres. The boundary expansion proposal results from an analysis of “core battlefields” and a subsequent boundary adjustment study conducted as part of Petersburg National Battlefield’s General Management Plan completed in 2004. Second, the bill would effect a land exchange between the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of the Army involving approximately one acre.
The City of Petersburg lies in the corridor of intensive growth from Washington, D.C., to south of Richmond, Virginia. The region surrounding Petersburg National Battlefield has been experiencing significant development pressures impacting areas immediately adjacent to the park and unprotected battlefield sites. This development not only threatens park resources and public enjoyment but also the core portions of the battlefields.
The park commemorates the Petersburg Campaign, the longest sustained combative military front on American soil, in both time and distance. When Congress created the park in 1926, only a fraction of the battlefield acreage associated with the 26 major battles of the Petersburg Campaign was included in the boundary. The additional lands proposed to be added to the park by S. 718 would allow the public to better understand the size, complexity, and duration of the 9½ month Petersburg Campaign and siege while offering protection to existing park resources.
In 2002, in response to significant development pressures in the region surrounding the park and as part of its General Management Plan process, Petersburg National Battlefield undertook a detailed assessment of battlefields in the Petersburg Campaign cited in the Civil War Sites Advisory Commission (CWSAC) report of 1993 entitled “Report on the Nation’s Civil War Battlefields.” The CWSAC report identified 100,000 acres of the Petersburg battlefields as “core battlefields” encompassing all of the critical phases defined for a battle. Of the 100,000 acres cited, 23,000 acres were determined to retain historic integrity.
During its more detailed analyses of the 23,000 acres, the park concentrated on those portions of the battlefields that were south of the Appomattox River and directly associated with the siege or defense of Petersburg, and that were identified as Class A (decisive) and Class B (major) by the CWSAC. Additionally, the park used historical maps and documentation to further refine the acreage to that constituting the portion of the battlefield on which both armies were engaged directly and that had a bearing on the outcome for each battle. Park staff further analyzed the integrity of these areas and their potential for public access and interpretation. The analyses found that 7,238 acres met the criteria for integrity and interpretability.
The estimated time period for acquisition of the 7,238 acres of these nationally significant lands is 15-20 years. Virtually all of the land subject to the boundary adjustment represents a mixture of private and non-profit organization-owned parcels. Agricultural and conservation easements will be the preferred method of acquisition for most parcels. Easements enable protection of these battlefields from inappropriate development while retaining private ownership and compatible use of the land. Where easements are not possible, and there is interest by the landowners, other acquisition methods, such as donation and fee simple acquisition from willing sellers based on available funding, will be utilized for battlefield preservation.
Under a 2008 estimate, the total estimated cost of purchasing in fee simple all of the 7,238 acres would be $29.7 million. Protection of land through easements and donations, which is anticipated for a large portion of the lands, would likely significantly lower acquisition costs and is the Department’s preferred method of protection. The estimated cost for capital expenses (trails, wayside exhibits, rehabilitation of existing visitor contact station, etc.) and expansion-related costs (surveys, hazardous materials studies, etc.) is $1.9 million. Development of visitor services and interpretation at these new battlefield locations would be minimal and include small parking areas, wayside exhibits, and trails and other enhancements to the sites. The annual increase in park operation and maintenance is estimated to be $531,000. Development and operational numbers are in 2014 dollars. All funds would be subject to NPS priorities and the availability of appropriations.
Public response to the General Management Plan and the proposed boundary expansion has been favorable among local governments, organizations, and individuals. The Dinwiddie County Board of Supervisors adopted a resolution supporting future legislation to expand the boundary of the park as outlined in the General Management Plan. Many civic organizations in the Petersburg region have also indicated support for the proposal.
The bill would also effect a transfer of administrative jurisdiction between the Secretary of the Army and the Secretary of the Interior involving two small parcels of land. Following the attacks of September 11, 2001, the Army was required to erect a perimeter fence around the Fort Lee Military Reservation, located adjacent to Petersburg National Battlefield. The fence intruded slightly into the boundary of the park. Effective upon enactment of this bill, the Army would receive administrative jurisdiction over the 1.170 acres of park land where the perimeter fence is located and the National Park Service would receive 1.171 acres of land at Fort Lee. The Secretary of the Army is supportive of this provision. There is no cost associated with this authorization.
We recommend amending S. 718 to increase the acreage ceiling at the City Point unit from 21 acres to 25 acres. In 1978, Petersburg National Battlefield was authorized to acquire the Eppes family property at City Point in Hopewell, provided that the amount of land acquired did not exceed 21 acres [Public Law 95-625]. The Conservation Fund owns land adjacent to the park property at the City Point unit that was purchased for the battlefield, and that land would be added to the park boundary under this bill. However, the addition of that land would exceed the 21-acre limit on land the park is authorized to acquire at City Point. Raising that limit to 25 acres would ensure that there is no conflict between the 1978 authority and this bill. In addition, ensuring clear legal authority for the park’s acquisition of the Conservation Fund land would facilitate a potential land exchange that would enable the NPS to dispose of a portion of the park’s property at City Point that has no relevance to the park’s mission or interpretive themes.
In addition, due to the need for technical corrections in both of the maps that are referenced in the bill, we recommend amending both of the map references to reflect the updated maps. We also recommend language that specifies that the land transferred to the Army be excluded from the park boundary. We will provide the committee with the revised maps and suggested amendments.
Mr. Chairman, this concludes my statement. I would be happy to answer any questions that you or other members of the subcommittee may have regarding this bill.