CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, May 15, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 3874, the Black Hills Cemetery Act, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority for approval. The bill was introduced on May 26, 2011, by Rep. Kristi Noem (R-SD) and referred to the committee on Natural Resources, which held a mark up and reported the bill as amended by voice vote on April 25, 2012.
H.R. 3874 would require the Secretary of Agriculture to convey parcels of National Forest System land containing nine cemeteries and associated public lands in the Black Hills of western South Dakota to local organizations for no consideration. In addition, the legislation would direct the Secretary to convey a supplementary two acres adjoining each cemetery parcel to ensure that the land includes unmarked graves and allow for future expansion. According to the Natural Resources Committee, total acreage conveyed under the legislation would be minimal. Under the legislation, local communities would assume ownership of the property as-is.
According to testimony from the bill’s sponsor, “The Black Hills is home to a number of [historic pioneer-era] cemeteries. Many of these originated in old mining towns of the 1800s and have a unique significance to the surrounding communities. These include the Englewood Cemetery, Galena Cemetery, Hayward Cemetery, Mountain Meadows Cemetery, Roubaix Cemetery, Nemo Cemetery, Rockerville, Silver City Cemetery, and another cemetery that I hope will get included into the final version of the bill, which is the Cold Springs Cemetery. These cemeteries are currently being managed by local cemetery associations or community groups in each of their surrounding areas, but have been technically owned by the U.S. Forest Service since the 1900s. This causes unnecessary liability for the U.S. Forest Service because of the responsibility for upkeep and dealing with possible vandalism or damage to the property.”
According to CBO, under the bill the Forest Service would spend less than $200,000 to conduct the necessary surveys and evaluate the historical significance of each site for inclusion in the National Register, assuming availability of appropriated funds.