Thursday, March 8, 2012

Senators Reed and Kerry Testify In Favor of National Park In Blackstone Valley

Secretary Salazar and National Park Service Express Support

The U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, chaired by Senator Mark Udall, heard testimony yesterday on the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park Establishment Act (S.1708).  The bill was introduced late last year by Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island and co-sponsored by Senators Brown and Kerry of Massachusetts and Senator Whitehouse of Rhode Island.  A companion bill was introduced in the House of Representatives.  Senators Kerry and Reed testified in support of the bill, followed by the Associate Director of the National Park Service (NPS), Dr. Stephanie Toothman, who also expressed support.  Senator Whitehouse submitted written testimony urging favorable action on the legislation.

Senator Kerry evoked the memory of the late Senator John H. Chafee to whom the park would be dedicated.  “I have no doubt that given his love of the environment, his love of history and his love of New England, Senator Chafee would agree that the history of the Blackstone River Valley is unique to the American experience and that protecting it as a National Historical Park is unquestionably in the public's interest. I hope we can honor his memory in this way.”  In his testimony, Senator Reed also paid tribute to John Chafee and noted how the park proposal builds on the successes achieved as a result of his leadership and the hard work it inspired at many levels.  “The extensive work of the National Park Service and the tireless efforts of federal, state and local officials, advocates, and volunteers -- in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts -- have resulted in the recovery of historic villages, riverways, and rural landscapes throughout the Corridor—a remarkable success story.  Creating a national historic park sets a clear path to preserve our cultural heritage, improve the use and enjoyment of these resources, and protect these nationally significant cultural and natural resources.”  He concluded by saying, “This is a process, but I hope we can build on the momentum from today’s hearing and succeed in creating a new National Historical Park.”

Both Senators invited Chairman Udall for a visit to the Blackstone Valley and experience what it has to offer for himself.  The Chairman responded that he looked forward to that opportunity, and to working with the Senators and the NPS to move the legislation forward.

As noted in the testimony, U.S. Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, transmitted the final Special Resource Study for the Blackstone River Valley to Congress earlier this month.   In an accompanying letter, the Secretary strongly endorsed the “preferred alternative” presented in the study, which recommends a partnership between a new National Historical Park and the existing National Heritage Corridor.  The study was conducted by the NPS.  Associate Director Toothman confirmed that the NPS supports the legislation.

Next, the Subcommittee is expected to mark up the bill, for consideration by the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee for approval.  The bill would then go before the full U.S. Senate.  A House hearing on the companion legislation is expected in the near future.
The hearing and positive testimony were welcome news in the Blackstone Valley.  Donna Williams, Chair of the Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor Commission, said she was “thrilled to see the legislation move forward” and grateful for the testimony delivered by the Senators.  “We could not have said it better ourselves,” she said.  “We are lucky to have Senators and Congressmen care as much as we do about continuing the success of the National Heritage Corridor and make the case for a new National Park with such passion.”