Chesterton Tribune                                                                                   Adv.

Bill would allow exhibits at Dorothy Buell Visitor Center

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Last August, at a Q/A session hosted by Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore Superintendent Constan-tine Dillon, the question was asked why there are no permanent exhibits at the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center, given the fact that the National Park Service (NPS) shares the facility with the Porter County Convention, Recreation, and Visitor Commission (PCCRVC).

Because, Dillon replied, the Visitor Center is not federal property and federal funds cannot be expended to place exhibits in it. Rather, he said, space at the Visitor Center is leased from the PCCRVC and for that reason any exhibits displayed there by NPS must be temporary and portable.

Under a bill, however, authored by U.S. Rep. Pete Visclosky, D-1st, and currently working its way through Congress, that particular stricture would be lifted, to the tune of up to $1.5 million.

Specifically, the Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center Partnership Act—which passed the House by voice vote in September—would do three things.

•First, it would authorize the Secretary of the Interior to enter into a memorandum of understanding with the PCCRVC. Among other things, that memorandum would “identify the overall goals and purpose” of the Visitor Center, “establish how management and operational duties will be shared,” and “indicate how various activities will be funded” and “identify who is responsible for providing site amenities.” Of special importance, the memorandum would formally give to the Secretary authority to lease space at the Visitor Center on behalf of the National Park Service.

•Second, it would authorize the Secretary “to plan, design, construct, and install exhibits” in the Visitor Center, “related to the use and management of the resources at Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, at a cost not to exceed $1.5 million.”

•Finally, in a minor technical correction, it would authorize—though not require—the Secretary to accept the donation of lands located outside the present boundaries of the National Lakeshore if they are contiguous with the park but separated by a right-of-way like a public road, railroad, or utility corridor. Right now the Department of Interior cannot accept such at-will donations.

Although Visclosky’s bill would have the effect of formalizing a relationship which has already existed in practice since 2003—when NPS and the PCCRVC began the processing of replacing their respective old visitor centers with a brand-new consolidated one—in fact the proposed memorandum of understanding would rectify a very recent change, evidently for the worse, in that relationship.

As PCCRVC Attorney Dave Hollenbeck told the Chesterton Tribune on Monday, until six months ago the Secretary of the Interior did have the authority to lease space at the Visitor Center on behalf of NPS. But that leasing authority was then transferred to the General Services Administration (GSA), and the bureaucracy involved in negotiating with GSA is proving onerous. “We’ve been in the process of dealing with the GSA and all of the paperwork and all of the forms,” Hollenbeck said. “It’s been complicated and burdensome and there’s been lots of paperwork.”

In fact the text of the bill does not specifically reference leasing authority, but Visclosky spokesman Jacob Ritvo said that the issue of that authority “is encompassed in the memorandum of understanding.”

The Congressional Budget Office has estimated that discontinuing the existing lease with the GSA would reduce spending by around $600,000 over the 2009-18 period because “the new lease would not have to comply with those terms or other GSA leasing policies.”

The bill passed the House by voice vote on Sept. 8, was subsequently referred to the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, and hearings were held by the committee’s Subcommittee on National Parks on Nov. 4.

“I am grateful to those in Northwest Indiana, especially the Save the Dunes Council, and those in Congress who have worked with me over the past few years in seeking the enactment of this important legislation,” Visclosky said in a statement released to the Tribune on Tuesday. “I am encouraged that the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has indicated that they will consider the measure in the near future. I hope the Senate acts quickly, so that the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore can continue to be improved as a park and to be enhanced as a natural resource for the people of Northwest Indiana and the entire country.”

Last week National Lakeshore spokesperson Lynda Lancaster told the Tribune that she was prohibited from discussing pending legislation.

But Dillon released this statement on Sept. 8 after the bill’s passage in the House. “More than 2 million people visit Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore each year, most of them from outside Northwest Indiana,” he said. “The Dorothy Buell Memorial Visitor Center offers these visitors a one-stop opportunity to plan their visit to the national and state parks and to learn more about opportunities offered by the surrounding communities. We are pleased to be part of this partnership.”


Posted 12/16/2009




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