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Senator Webb Urges Swift Action on Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act

Legislation “provides obvious long-term preservation and economic benefits”

Office of VA Senator Webb - October 19, 2011

Washington, DC — Senator Jim Webb (D-VA) today urged swift passage of his legislation to establish a unit of the National Park Service at Fort Monroe in Hampton, Virginia, during an Energy and Natural Resources subcommittee hearing.

“The site of Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort…has been witness to centuries of American history,” said Senator Webb in a statement submitted for the record. “The Fort Monroe National Historical Park will provide jobs, tourism and public recreation in a scenic urban park to not only Hampton Roads, but to our state and nation at large.”

“Time is of the essence for this legislation,” Senator Webb continued. “The sooner the legislation is considered and passed, the sooner the National Parks Service can coordinate with the Army’s final efforts and thereby ensure the most cost effective transition and implementation of a new NPS site.”

Senators Webb and Mark Warner (D-VA) introduced the Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act (S. 1303) on June 29. It would authorize the Park Service to establish a national park presence at the Fort to preserve historic and natural resources for the benefit of present and future generations.

A copy of the Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act of 2011 is available here.

Senator Webb’s full statement to the Subcommittee is below:

 

Senator Jim Webb

 

 

Statement for the Record Regarding Legislation to Establish the Fort Monroe National Historical Park as a Unit of the National Park System in Virginia.

 

National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources

October 19, 2011

Thank you, Chairman Udall, Ranking Member Paul, and members of the National Parks Subcommittee of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. I appreciate the Subcommittee’s attention to legislation I have introduced: the Fort Monroe National Historical Park Establishment Act of 2011 (S. 1303).

I would also like to welcome our witness supporting this legislation, Terrie Suit, Governor Bob McDonnell’s Secretary of Veterans Affairs & Homeland Security. In her capacity as a member of the Governor’s Cabinet, Ms. Suit is also a member of the Fort Monroe Authority and point of contact on Fort Monroe for his administration. I am confident she will be able to answer any of your questions and demonstrate strong bipartisan support for this legislation.

The site of Fort Monroe and Old Point Comfort, located in Hampton, Virginia, has been witness to centuries of American history. This history, from the approach of Captain John Smith to the region’s emergence as the pre-eminent naval and maritime center on the Eastern seaboard, has helped shape the Commonwealth of Virginia and Hampton Roads as a region. The military component of the Fort Monroe peninsula alone has provided invaluable training and defense of our country.

Fort Monroe has also played an important role in African-American history as well. Fort Monroe was a location where many of the first slaves came to in the New World. Centuries later, the site saw multiple significant events of the Civil War that tore our country apart. In 1861, the Fort Monroe’s acceptance of escaped slaves led to the pivotal “Contraband Decision” by General Benjamin Butler, earning the Fort the moniker “Fortress Freedom.” This decision by General Butler would identify slaves as enemy contraband, and thus define them as property for ‘capture’ by Union forces.

Also during the Civil War, the Fort and its inhabitants were witnesses to the one of the first great naval battles during the legendary 1862 battle of the earliest ironclad vessels, the CSS Virginia and USS Monitor, and at one time or another played host to the likes of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Abraham Lincoln.

Fort Monroe was officially “deactivated” on September 15, 2011 by direction of a 2005 Base Realignment and Closure recommendation. On that day, the U.S. Army relinquished its control (though it is still there performing final environmental cleanup) and the bulk of land at the site has reverted to the Commonwealth of Virginia. The legislation Senator Warner and I have introduced, to create the Fort Monroe National Historical Park, is vital to the local community, the Commonwealth, and to historic preservation in Virginia. Time is of the essence for this legislation because of the deadline mandated by BRAC. The sooner the legislation is considered and passed, the sooner the National Parks Service can coordinate with the Army’s final efforts and thereby ensure the most cost effective transition and implementation of a new NPS site.

As I stressed before, creation of the National Park outlined in our legislation is supported by a wide range of elected officials from both parties, numerous local and national groups, ranging from conservation organizations to churches, and thousands of local residents of the Hampton Roads area. These constituents submitted over eight thousand comments of support during and after the Department of Interior’s public hearings in July. In an additional show of bipartisan support for this concept, Representative Scott Rigell from Virginia has introduced the companion bill to S. 1303 (H.R. 2456) in the House of Representatives. This legislation is a prime example of federal, state and local cooperation though all levels of government and engagement with local residents. I have attached a list of supportive legislators, local officials and various organizations, from prominent Civil War entities to various historic preservation groups who endorse a National Park designation at Fort Monroe.

Our legislation is straightforward; it establishes, and specifically defines the boundary of the proposed Fort Monroe National Historical Park, authorizing the Secretary of the Interior to complete a general management plan for the Park. It authorizes the Secretary to enter into cooperative agreements outlining the further preservation of additional non-federal properties within the boundary of the Park, as well as those in close proximity to the Park that are related to events associated with the site. And S. 1303 provides for cost effective management of the park, including the cost share of a visitors center and coordination with a Fort Monroe Foundation to aid with future funding possibilities.

From the National Park Service’s perspective, during a study to consider the creation of a potential National Park, their staff determined that “resources associated with Fort Monroe are nationally significant and likely to be found suitable for potential designation as a unit of the national park system.” With this interpretation, we have worked carefully to utilize the Park Service’s valuable technical assistance and drafting services, which included discussions with the Director of the National Park Service himself, Jon Jarvis.

The Fort Monroe National Historical Park will provide jobs, tourism and public recreation in a scenic urban park to not only Hampton Roads, but to our state and nation at large. S. 1303 will allow Fort Monroe to serve as a unique National Park addition to an already superb set of National Park Service sites within Virginia.

In conclusion, members of the Subcommittee, this legislation provides obvious long term preservation and economic benefits, and I again respectfully urge the National Parks Subcommittee and the full Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee to advance S. 1303 as expeditiously as possible. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the Senate towards final passage on the Senate floor.

Thank you.

 

The information above is for general awareness only and does not necessarily reflect the views of the Office of Economic Adjustment or the Department of Defense as a whole.

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