March 7, 2019

Honorable Betty McCollum
Chair
Subcommittee on Interior, Environment, and Relations Agencies
Committee on Appropriations
House of Representatives
Washington, D.C. 20515

Dear Madam Chair:

I am writing on behalf of The Coalition to Protect America’s National Parks (Coalition). Our Coalition is composed of over 1,600 members who collectively have more than 40,000 years of experience managing and protecting parks and the National Park System. We believe that our parks and public lands represent the very best of America, and advocate for their protection

The purpose of the letter is to urge you to include language in the FY 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, that would prohibit the Department of the Interior from using any funds to sell, exchange, lease, or transfer Oxon Cove Park in Prince George’s County, Maryland. We strongly believe that this park should continue to be used and enjoyed as part of the National Park System.

While Oxon Cove Park may not be known throughout the country, it is an important local park resource in a minority community. The park is only one of a few large open spaces east of the Anacostia River in metropolitan Washington, D.C., an area subject to massive development including the Gaylord National Harbor Hotel and Convention Center, the MGM National Harbor Casino, and the Tanger Outlets National Harbor center. The National Park Service has managed this park land since 1959, and it has become a favorite site visited by hundreds of school children every year, as well members of the local community. Traffic is already overwhelming the area and any further development will exacerbate the problem, while depriving local residents of the open space they have used for decades.

Unfortunately, it is unsurprising that a significant park site in a minority community has become the target of a non-binding agreement for a land exchange between the governor of Maryland, and the Department of the Interior. There is a long history in this country of targeting land within minority communities for development without the assent or input of its residents. And with the current administration of the Department of the Interior, there appears to be a pattern of ignoring the mandates in law to protect national parks unimpaired and allowing public lands to be used as bargaining chips for purposes that benefit the wealthy.

While it has been reported that the governor has abandoned his plans to swap the Oxon Cove property for use as a proposed football stadium, which was the initial impetus for this agreement, we understand the governor continues to eye the Oxon Cove property for development purposes. The agreement between the governor of Maryland and the Department of the Interior was completed in the dark of night, without any public input or discussion. The local community and those who enjoy Oxon Cove Park deserve better than this.

National park lands in the District of Columbia have already been impacted by the tennis center built directly in the middle of Rock Creek Park, as well as the unused Robert F. Kennedy stadium. These mistakes should not be compounded for local national park lands in the Washington, D.C. area by authorizing a similar transfer, sale, or exchange of lands within Oxon Cove Park.

The Organic Act of the National Park Service provides for the protection of national park lands and for their use “…in such manner as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment for future generations.” Other Park Service laws only allow for the exchange or transfer or park lands without congressional approval under a limited set of circumstances that assure the interests of the underlying park unit are preserved. These circumstances do not apply in the case of proposals to exchange or alienate the lands of Oxon Cove Park. It is clear that any effort to alienate or exchange the Oxon Cove Park land would require the approval of Congress and could not be done surreptitiously through agreements that have not been subject to public scrutiny.

We ask the subcommittee to allow the people who live near Oxon Cove Park, as well as the hundreds of school children and others who come from nearby communities, to be able to continue to enjoy Oxon Cove Park. We ask you to stop any land exchange or disposal agreement from consideration through appropriate bill language in the FY 2020 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act.

Thank you for consideration of our request.

Sincerely,

 

 

 

Philip A. Francis
Chair

Cc: Ranking Member Honorable David Joyce
Members of the Maryland and Virginia congressional delegations
Delegate Eleanor Holmes Norton
Senate Appropriations Subcommittee