CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, December 6, 2011, the House is scheduled to consider S. 535 under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority vote for approval. S. 535 was introduced by Sen. Johnny Isakson (R-GA) on March 9, 2011, and approved in the Senate by unanimous consent on November 2, 2011. The bill was referred the Committee on Natural Resources, which reported the bill by unanimous consent of November 17, 2011.
S. 535 would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to lease up to 30,000 square feet of land within the Fort Pulaski National Monument in Georgia to the Savannah Bar Pilots Association. According to the bill, the land has been used continuously by the Savannah Bar Pilots Association since 1940. Under the bill, the Secretary would be required to charge a rental fee based on fair market value adjusted, as the Secretary deems appropriate, for amounts to be expended by the lessee for property preservation, maintenance, or repair and related expenses. The lease made pursuant to S. 535 could not be longer than 10 years and would have to include any terms and conditions the Secretary determines to be necessary to protect the resources of the Monument and the public interest.
According to House Report 112-298, Fort Pulaski is located on Cockspur Island in the Savannah River and was constructed as part of a system of coastal fortifications ordered by President James Madison after the War of 1812. The fort became a national monument in 1924 and was transferred from the War Department to the National Park Service (NPS) in 1933.
In 1940, NPS authorized, by special use permit, exclusive use of land and improvements within the national monument to the Savannah Bar Pilots Association to operate a vessel-piloting business. The Bar Pilots Association operates pilot vessels to help steer commercial shipping through the waters of the Savannah River, where shifting sand bars create dangerous conditions that make navigation difficult. The Bar Pilots Association has occupied the same spot at the west end of Cockspur Island since 1940.
In 1973, NPS issued a twenty-year special use permit allowing the Association to continue to use the tract, and to construct and upgrade living quarters, a dock, a fuel supply system and a parking lot. While the permit has been renewed, the terms of these permits have ranged in length from one year to a 20-year permit that existed from 1973 to 1993. The current special use permit the parties are operating under expires on March 15, 2013.
NPS has been advised by the Department of the Interior's Solicitor's Office that the Association's continued use of national monument land should be authorized through a non-competitive lease, rather than a special use permit. S. 535 would authorize NPS to enter into such a lease. Proceeds from the lease may be used under current law for infrastructure needs at units of the National Park System.
According to CBO, implementing S. 535 would have no significant net effect on the federal budget.