Heart Mountain study bill clears House

Posted 7/20/10

If passed by the Senate, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center Study Act would direct the National Park Service to conduct a Special Resource Study of 123 acres that served as an internment camp for more than 11,000 Japanese-American internees during …

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Heart Mountain study bill clears House


A bill authorizing a study to determine if the site of the former Heart Mountain Relocation Center should be managed by the National Park Service passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week.The bill, H.R. 3989, passed the House on a voice vote on July 13, and now will move to the Senate for consideration.

If passed by the Senate, the Heart Mountain Relocation Center Study Act would direct the National Park Service to conduct a Special Resource Study of 123 acres that served as an internment camp for more than 11,000 Japanese-American internees during World War II. The U.S. government moved and interned Japanese-Americans at 10 relocation camps across the country over fears they might be loyal to Japan — even though a majority were American citizens.

The resource study would look at various options for future management of the site, including the suitability and feasibility of it becoming a national park site. The study would include opportunities for the public to provide input on the site's future.

“Heart Mountain is a visible reminder of the injustices of a difficult time in our nation's history. H.R. 3989 serves as an opportunity to ensure this dark chapter in our country's past is never forgotten,” said bill sponsor Rep. Cynthia Lummis, R-Wyo., in a statement. “I applaud Park County and its northwest Wyoming communities for their grassroots dedication and critical role in the passage of the Heart Mountain Relocation Center Study Act.”

The private Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation has led the effort to memorialize the relocation camp and got the ball rolling on the study bill, saying it was important to explore all options.

The non-profit foundation is currently in the process of constructing an 11,000 square foot interpretive learning center at the site, located west of Ralston on Road 19, north of Highway 14-A. The estimated $5.3 million center is scheduled to open in the fall of 2011, contingent on fundraising.

The National Park Service has estimated a special resource study of the former camp site could take four and a half years and roughly $250,000 to complete.

Of the 123 acres to be studied under the bill, 73 are currently owned by U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the remaining 50 acres are owned by the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation. The foundation has said it is “absolutely open” to donating its land to the Park Service should the site be deemed to be appropriate as a National Park site.

There was some brief political sparring prior to the bill's passage last week.

Shortly before her Heart Mountain bill was considered, Lummis had criticized two bills that similarly would study expanding the national parks system.

Of a bill that would authorize a study to potentially make the Northern Mariana Island of Rota into a national park, Lummis raised a note of caution about it and other bills adding “to the already very long list of new park ideas awaiting evaluation” and also said the United States' “ability to pay for every conceivable new park is limited and our ability to manage the upkeep of our existing parks is obviously in doubt.”

“Our parks are important assets but I question the wisdom of going further into debt to continually expand park service holdings while our existing parks face a $9 billion backlog in maintenance and upkeep,” Lummis later said of a bill that would expand the San Antonio Missions National Historical Park in Texas.

As the House next prepared to take up debate on Lummis' Heart Mountain bill, Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, managing the floor debate for Democrats, noted an apparent contradiction between opposing those study bills while supporting one's own bill.

Lummis, who was managing the floor debate for Republicans, said it was an “excellent point,” but differentiated between the legislation. She noted that the San Antonio bill would authorize a $4 million land purchase while the Heart Mountain bill relies on donated land.

In a follow-up phone interview with the Tribune, Lummis pointed to the support of the Heart Mountain, Wyoming Foundation as the critical difference.

She said such public-private partnerships, where private foundations can raise and provide supplemental funding for Park Service projects, should set a precedent for other national parks.

At a House subcommittee meeting in April, Heart Mountain foundation board member Eric Muller said the group could continue to provide fundraising support even if the Park Service took over the site.

Had the projects in the Mariana Islands or San Antonio similarly had grassroots foundations providing support, “I would have voted for them,” Lummis said.

“It's to Powell's credit and Park County and those participating in the (Heart Mountain) foundation that they recognized now is not the time to burden taxpayers all over the country with a project” and instead came up with an innovative way to raise additional money, Lummis said. She also praised the foundation for having already acquired the land that would become a part of the national park, if created.

When asked about the estimated $250,000 cost to study if the Heart Mountain site should come under Park Service management, Lummis said she is less concerned with that amount.

“At the end of the day they (the Park Service) may recommend this not be added as a unit,” she noted.