Hearings and Business Meetings
May 10, 2006
SD-366 Energy Committee Hearing Room 02:30 PM
Mr. Bob Warren
Chairman, National Alliance of Gateway Communities
STATEMENT OF BOB WARREN
TOURISM DEVELOPMENT MANAGER,
THE SUBCOMMITEE ON
AND FORESTS PUBLIC LANDS
THE SENATE COMMITTEE ON ENERGY AND RESOURCES
THE GATEWAY COMMUNITIES COOPERATION ACT
May 10, 2006
Thank you, Chairman Craig and other subcommittee members, for the opportunity to testify on behalf of H.R. 585. I am here as Chairman of the National
I am pleased to note that the NAGC is joined in its support of H.R. 585 by the National Association of Counties, the National Association of RV Parks & Campgrounds, the National Bus Association, the National Tour Association and the Travel Industry Association of America.
On behalf of the NAGC and gateway communities everywhere, we thank you, Mr. Chairman, for considering this historic bill in this hearing. To the best of our knowledge, it is the first bill ever to focus exclusively on the needs and concerns of gateway communities.
Gateway communities, by their very nature, are close to public lands. They have a symbiotic relationship that creates an arrangement where the public land units need the communities for their services, while the communities need the public lands as attractions. In
The Need: Why H.R. 585 Is Important
Many of the supervisors, superintendents, and managers of public land management units are keenly aware of the importance of working with their gateway communities. I know in my area, many of them make daily efforts to interact with community leaders. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. There are too many cases where relationships are inconsistent and unreliable and are often too dependent on the personalities involved. What we want to do by enacting this legislation is to take a major step towards institutionalizing those relationships by putting them on a firmer statutory base.
There are also examples of Federal land managers showing little concern for the economics of gateway communities and purposefully attempting to affect development outside their management units. In one instance in the Northwest, a new national park superintendent was interviewed for an article in a major newspaper in which he indicated opposition to a planned destination resort more than 11 miles from the park that he managed. Unfortunately, he had neglected to communicate with the developer who had, for the previous nine years, worked in concert with the park superintendent’s predecessor and staff on the planning of this resort. H.R. 585 would certainly not have affected his ability to speak out on this issue, but he would have at least known that he also would need to develop a relationship with the adjacent communities, so when issues related to important park management decisions came up, the community would be part of his thought process.
Many of the management plans for significant public land devote hundreds of pages to natural resource preservation, while devoting just a paragraph or two to the people who live in or adjacent to that unit. Their frustration is exacerbated when their communities do not have a “seat at the table”.
For example, although economic and social impacts are supposed to be considered in national forest management plans, the plan for the
In the mid-1990s, the five communities that are gateways to
For more than 50 years the small tourism community of Cody has realized the importance of a respectful and working relationship with the
Another community adjacent to
Another example of “challenging relations” is
When communities are making significant planning changes, especially involving land use issues, they are required to comply with a host of Federal environmental mandates. Many agencies often comment on their proposed planning efforts. This makes for a one-way street, as the communities have far less opportunity to comment on proposed changes on adjacent Federal lands. Although H.R. 585 does provide gateway communities a “seat at the table,” the bill does not give a gateway community a veto over agency programs, actions, or policies. The bill would promote cooperation and coordination and give local Federal land managers a greater understanding of the needs and perspectives of their adjacent communities. I might add that it will also give local leaders a greater understanding of the needs and perspectives of their local Federal land managers.
It is difficult to use specific geographic, demographic, social or economic criteria to define and identify all gateway communities. Previous efforts to define gateways as those communities within so many miles of a particular Federal land site, or with a maximum population base, or as generating so much tax revenue from visitors to the Federal land site inevitably fall short of encompassing the full range of gateways. There are always notable exceptions to any such formula.
For these reasons, we support the approach taken in H.R. 585. After requiring that gateway communities be incorporated or recognized in a “county or regional land use plan or within tribal jurisdictional boundaries.” The decision as to whether a community is a gateway is delegated to “the relevant Secretary (or the head of the tourism office for the State)” who are required to determine whether the community “is significantly affected economically, socially, or environmentally by planning and management decisions regarding Federal lands.”
We believe the Secretaries of Interior and Agriculture and the State Tourism Offices are in the best position to determine the degree to which the community is affected by its Federal land neighbor.
What This Bill Will Not Do
Now let me try and clarify some possible misimpressions about this Gateways Bill.
First, we do not believe it is an invitation to “bash the agencies.” Many local Federal land managers understand the importance of good relations with their gateway communities and make proactive attempts to cultivate those good relations. They are to be commended. At the national level, the Federal land agencies recently have increasingly recognized the importance of gateways.
Second, H.R. 585 does not gives gateway communities any type of veto over policies, decisions, programs or activities of any Federal land agency. It does not give any gateways preference or priority over any other stakeholder. That has never been the intent of the bill.
Third, we do not believe that H.R. 585 will encourage litigation by gateways communities over agency plans or decisions. For several reasons, including a lack of financial resources, it is extremely rare for gateway communities to initiate litigation challenging the Federal agencies. To the contrary, we believe that the closer communication and dialogue and better partnerships that will be fostered by H.R. 585 will make future litigation much less likely.
Fourth, we do not think that H.R. 585 is, in any way, contrary to the environmental values and goals of our nation. No one loves the natural beauty and wildlife of our magnificent national parks, forests and other Federal public lands more than those who have chosen to spend their lives in the communities next door to them.
Fifth, we do not believe that H.R. 585 elevates local interests over the national interests. We recognize that we are talking about national parks and national forests, and they must always be responsive first and foremost to national values and priorities. Nothing in this bill would change that.
Sixth, H.R. 585 does not place any additional mandates on gateway communities. It will be the voluntary choice of the gateway as to whether it seeks to utilize any of the provisions of the bill.
What This Bill Will Do
H.R. 585 is a balanced, reasonable response to a widespread concern. As we have noted, in many instances, relationships between Federal land agencies and their gateway communities are harmonious and productive. Many Federal land managers and local leaders do indeed “get it” and work harmoniously together.
They understand that the community and the Federal land are inevitably interconnected. They understand that it is not a “zero sum game,” but that the health and vitality of one has a direct impact on the other. They understand the imperative of being “good neighbors” with their gateways. They understand that the Federal lands are poorly served by gateway communities that are weak and resentful,
But this is not always the case. In the last decade, in 1998 and in 2002, there have been two major State-Federal Conferences devoted to gateway communities. At both conferences, two common refrains were that the agencies too often ignored the interests of gateways without reason and that many gateways have insufficient staff and expertise to participate in a truly meaningful way in agency policy-making processes. At present, it is up to each Federal land manager to decide what relationships he or she wants to have with gateway communities. There has never been a statutory declaration that gateway communities are critical to the mission of the agencies and that cooperation and coordination should be fostered.
The first and greatest value of H.R.585, therefore, is to declare as a matter of national policy that Federal land managers are required
to communicate, coordinate and cooperate with gateway communities in order to –
(1) improve the relationships among Federal land managers, elected officials and residents of gateway communities;
(2) enhance the facilities and services in gateway communities available to visitors to Federal lands when compatible with the management of these lands, including the availability of historical and cultural resources; and
(3) result in better local land use planning in gateway communities and decisions by the relevant Secretary.
The bill thus provides historic recognition by Congress that gateway communities are integral to the mission of the public lands, the first points of contact for visitors and the providers of essential services to both visitors and the public lands.
In the closing days of the Clinton Administration, T. Destry Jarvis, then Senior Advisor to the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish and Wildlife and Parks, wrote: “ . . . no land-use decision around a national park is exclusively local or national, but always has implications on both. The National Park Service should realize its affirmative responsibility to actively participate in local land-use decisions, and should similarly be aware of the effects of its decisions on its neighbors, allowing them to be involved in the process of arriving at those decisions.” H.R. 585 would be an historic step towards that goal.
Too many times, small gateway communities – towns and counties – are expected to interpret and comment on complex agency draft planning documents without staff and expertise to interpret and evaluate the potential ramifications of those plans for the communities.
In this regard, let me enter in a statement from an NAGC director. This statement is from Karen Alvey, former mayor of
After much thought, I have decided that the whole process of planning on public lands must be done with the communities at the table, and early on. Most of the public officials have other jobs, cannot afford full time staff to attend and gather information, and lack the knowledge to make good decisions on management issues. If it is mandated to invite the community’s leaders in early so that they can become educated, then better decisions will be made. Currently, planning seems to go on forever, then decisions are made and announced to the communities.
H.R. 4622 would enable gateways to be much more meaningful participants in those agency planning processes by:
(1) receiving early, non-technical summaries of such plans, their assumptions and objectives and the anticipated impact on gateway communities;
(2) receiving the earliest practicable public notice of proposed decisions that may have a significant impact on gateway communities;
(3) receiving training from the agencies about their planning processes and how they can best participate;
(4) receiving technical assistance from the agency, including detailed agency staff to work with the gateway to understand and respond better to proposed agency plans;
(5) receiving, on request, a review from the agency of its land use, management or transportation plans likely to affect the community;
(6) entering into cooperative agreements to coordinate local land use plans with those of the Federal land agency, other Federal agencies, State governments and tribal governments;
What these provisions would do is to institutionalize gateway community involvement with their Federal land neighbors. It would systematize and set parameters on planning processes that have until now been inconsistent and unclear from the perspective of local communities. Plans do matter. The Federal land agencies are guided (and limited) in future years by the assumptions and conclusions of their plans. They will be better plans – more effective and more accepted -- with greater community involvement.
It is also worthy of special note that H.R. 585 will require interagency coordination and consolidation when the plans and planning processes of two or more Federal land agencies are anticipated to have an impact on a gateway community. This will go a long way towards reducing overlap, redundancy and confusion for gateways near multiple Federal lands with multiple plans.
Summary and Conclusion
In closing, I don’t think we can any longer deny our gateway communities legal standing in the Federal decision-making process. Often, Federal lands are the foundation of a community’s culture, commerce, and heritage. Decisions affected those lands are often politicized and charged with emotion, as shown by the proliferation of litigation by outside groups (although typically not by gateways). The politics and emotions are dramatically played out in our communities. This wrenching drama is for naught, if our communities cannot have a meaningful stake in the process. Often, this process is affected by the sparse rural population political representation in the West, pitted against well meaning, urban political agendas driven by well-financed and staffed special interest groups. This leads to many gateway communities feeling as if they are being treated like children, when told to “eat your vegetables, it’s what’s best for you”. H.R. 585 will modify the process and level the playing field by directly and appropriately including gateway communities.
Leaders in gateway communities are faced with the daily tension of attempting to balance commerce and conservation, of preserving enduring wildness while enhancing economic well-being. Our communities will survive only if we are constantly ensuring that the needs of nature are met while people are allowed to make a living. This tension is of course by choice, as those of us who live in rural, gateway locations most often would choose to be nowhere else. We feel that this important bill will help bridge the gap between today and tomorrow, while striving to preserve all that is natural, as well as maintaining the character of our communities. A consistent Federal process of inclusion of the leaders of gateway communities would improve the process, the politics, and the outcome. All we ask is some say in our future.
If gateway communities are to continue to be healthy partners, it is imperative that there be greater collaboration in the planning process. Local input should be considered, so as not to make oversights in judgments and decisions that could be avoided with true partnership relationships. At times decisions are made by Federal land managers without much consideration of the impact on the communities, the process of fostering healthy relationships or the local economics. The communities are left to pick up the pieces and try and fix what becomes broken in the process. Such problems could have been averted with collaboration at the appropriate time.
We believe it was never the intent of Congress or the agencies to have the personalities of supervisors, superintendents, or other land managers determine the level of cooperation between gateway communities and the federal lands units. H.R. 585 would not compel any manager to talk to coalitions of gateway communities or dictate the terms of partnerships, but it would clearly declare that the intent of Congress is to support much greater cooperation, coordination and communication between gateway communities and Federal land managers.
H.R. 585 would result in closer, more productive cooperative relationships between gateways and Federal land managers, benefiting both the communities and the federal lands, responding to both national and local values. H.R. 585 would enhance the capability of gateways to participate more effectively and more meaningfully in agency planning processes for the betterment of all. It should become law. Mr. Chairman, H.R. 585, is landmark legislation. Its enactment will open a new day for gateway communities throughout the nation.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to working with you to ensure enactment of this vital legislation.