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Friday, November 7, 2008

Tell Senator McCaskill There's No Need to Pass Arch Grounds Legislation Now

On October 3, Congressman William Clay (D-MO 1st) introduced HR 7252, which would downgrade the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial grounds from the current National Historic Landmark status to listing on the National Register of Historic Places and, most important, authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into an agreement with the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial Trust that would allow the Trust to manage the Memorial grounds and construct a museum there. The Danforth Foundation incorporated the Trust in June, with Peter Raven, Walter Metcalfe and Bob Archibald as the corporation's directors.

Now, Missouri Senator Claire McCaskill has felt pressure to introduce a companion in the Senate. Believe it or not, word is that some parties want the bill to pass in the current lame duck Congress, while privatization-friendly President George W. Bush and Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne are still in office. McCaskill has yet to cave to the pressure. If she did, and the bill were to become law, a public process already underway for planning improvements to the Jefferson National Expansion Memorial would be stopped, and a private vision would be enshrined in federal law.

Clay's bill is inappropriate on several fronts:

  • The bill short-changes the public, which has yet to see the National Park Service's draft management plan for the Memorial or participate in the planned 45-day public comment period. NPS has released a summary of its preferred alternative, but has not issued the actual draft General Management Plan/Environmental Impact Statement. NPS will release that draft in January, with the comment period immediately afterward.
  • The National Park Service has called for an international design competition to be held next year where changes to the grounds could be visualized and a winning entry would be selected by a jury. This process would allow for a wide range of possibilities to be explored. The winning entry might call for something other than a museum on the grounds.
  • Congress should not exercise the power to remove National Historic Landmark status for political reasons (there is a formal process for removing the designation in place within the Department of the Interior).
  • It is an abuse of the purpose of the National Park system for Congress to direct the National Park Service to lease a National Park to a private group solely for construction. We can build a museum at the Memorial -- although we already have two there -- but we need not cede control to a private entity to do so. Without a public input process, we have no idea if there is support for the museum idea or what sort of museum is appropriate for the site.

    I urge my readers to contact Senator McCaskill (via this page) and tell her that the Clay bill is flawed and premature. Sending the same thoughts to Representative Clay (via this page) would be helpful as well.
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