By Liz Sheehan |
FORT HANCOCK – The Fort Hancock 21st Century Committee was established by the US Department of the Interior in 2012 to look into ways to restore the buildings at the historic fort on Sandy Hook.
But last week, officials said its activities are now frozen.
Daphne Yun, acting public affairs officer for Gateway National Recreation Area on Sandy Hook where Fort Hancock is located, said Friday that “the federal advisory committee has been suspended, all federal advisory committees have been suspended at this point at the request of the Secretary of Interior.” She said there was a comprehensive review of all advisory committee activities being conducted.
The leasing program for the buildings at the fort will continue, Yun said. But the scheduled June meeting of the committee will not be held.
On May 8, The Washington Post reported that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke was reviewing the charters and the charges of more than 200 advisory boards, committees and others entities in and outside his department. The same day CNN reported that a memo obtained by the news network showed the Interior Department had frozen more than 200 advisory boards, committees and subcommittees.
Yun said she did not have a copy of the memo.
On Wednesday, Tom Crosson, chief of public affairs at the NPS said in an email that the Interior Department was conducting a review “of the charters and charges of Federal Advisory Committee Act (FACA) Advisory Commissions in an effort to maximize feedback from these boards and to ensure their compliance with both FACA and the President’s recent executive orders.”
He said that as the review continued many of the committees would resume their scheduled meetings, “and the department fully expects the majority of Committees to resume by September.”
The Fort Hancock Advisory Committee was created in 2012 after the National Park Service (NPS) failed in an attempt to work with a developer, James Wassel, to renovate and commercialize at least 35 buildings on the fort. Wassel was given a 60-year lease but his plans met with strong local opposition, resulting in the formation of a Save Sandy Hook group to fight the proposal.
In 2009 the NPS cancelled Wassel’s lease, saying he had not shown he had the financial ability to fulfill the plan. The NPS formed the 20-member committee in 2012, composed of local officials and representatives of other interests in the area, including the Eastern Monmouth Area Chamber of Commerce and the Monmouth County Arts Council.
At its first meeting in 2013, according to NPS spokesperson John Warren, Linda Canzanelli, then superintendent of Gateway, said it was “the last best chance to save Fort Hancock.”
Last year the committee issued the first lease on a building at the fort, an officer’s’ duplex. Currently there are four buildings that have received proposals: a sergeant’s quarters, the mule barn, a civilian employee family quarters and a commander’s quarters.
Letters of intent, the process in which the park service and potential lessees enter into discussion on possible lease terms, have been received for a barracks building, a bachelor officers’ quarters, a mess hall, and a lieutenant quarters.
The park service has met with the architect and project manager for the nonprofit Affordable Housing advocacy group, which services Monmouth County, about the former bachelor officers’ quarters. The director of capital projects at the alliance, Meyer Pincelli, said the house would be used to create several one-bedroom housing units.
Meetings between the park service and representatives of the Monmouth County Vocational School District, which operates the Marine Academy of Science and Technology (MAST) high school, have been held concerning the mess hall and barracks.
This article was first published in the June 1-June 8, 2017 print edition of The Two River Times.
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