NPS director won’t be at forum; says lease is valid

Staff Writer

NPS director won’t be at forum; says lease is valid


Staff Writer

The U.S. Department of the Interior won’t send a high-ranking official from its Washington office to a public forum, despite Rep. Frank Pallone Jr.’s request to do so.

Instead, a senior official from the National Park Service Northeast Regional Office in Philadelphia will attend the forum, which a Pallone spokesman said would be held later this month.

Pallone, D-N.J., had requested that National Park Service Director Fran Mainella or another senior-level official attend a public forum he will convene to address public concerns — and his own — about the NPS’s awarding of a lease to a private developer for 36 historic buildings at Fort Hancock on Sandy Hook.

"It’s not the response he wanted," said Pallone spokesman Andrew Sou­vall, adding the congressman would reiterate his request that a senior offi­cial attend the forum. A date, time and place for the forum have not been announced.

At the same time, a spokesman for the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, Washington, D.C., said Monday the council will make a rec­ommendation soon on requests by Pal­lone and state Department of Envi­ronmental Protection Commissioner Bradley Campbell to hold public hear­ings on the redevelopment.

"No decision has been made at this point, but we are close to recommend­ing a course of action," said Bruce Milhans, communications coordinator for the advisory council, which has a 20-member board appointed by the Pres­ident.

In her response to Pallone’s request, Mainella also spoke to issues he raised in a July letter, in­cluding questioning whether Sandy Hook Partners (SHP) had met the terms of the NPS procurement by show­ing proof of financing for the entire project when it submitted its proposal.

"The NPS fully shares your con­cern that Fort Hancock be protected properly, used appropriately, and managed accountably," she wrote.

Mainella said the original proposal submitted by SHP "demonstrated the fi­nancial capacity" to undertake the five-year, $75 million project.

In fact, Mainella said, "no other proposal presented reuse plans that supported the NPS goals and satisfactorily demon­strated the financial capacity to under­take their plan."

Mainella said Sandy Hook Part­ners demonstrated "that it had ob­tained commercially reasonable commitments to fulfill its obligation" before signing the 60-year historic lease July 9.

"The agreement signed," she said, "is a valid and enforceable lease."

She said the NPS gave Sandy Hook Partners until Dec. 31 to close financ­ing to protect the public from potential legal action by the lessee. The Dec. 31 date is not an extension but a "required milestone with the 18-month time frame for completion of Phase One," the NPS director said.

She said once lease transactions are complete, the developer "has com­mitted in writing" to making public the identity of investors and lenders.

Last week, Pallone joined Camp­bell in calling on the Advisory Coun­cil on Historic Preservation to hold public hearings on the NPS/SHP pro­posal.

Acting in his role as the state’s his­toric preservation officer, Campbell asked the council to hold public hearings to "ensure the public has an adequate op­portunity to comment … "

But Milhans pointed out that the council is an advisory body only; any hearings would be held by the agency involved, he said.

"Normally the NPS would be the presiding agency and would hold the hearing," he said. "We are advisory in nature. We can say we think this is the way it should be done, but it doesn’t mean the National Park Service has to do it that way.

"Generally when we feel there needs to be broader public involve­ment, we have asked for a meeting to hear public testimony, and it usually happens," Milhans added.