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Bend park bill passes, but Senate, House differ

Posted by Tom Kunesh to TN IND

By Andy Sher Washington Bureau

Chattanooga Times Free Press 21 november 2002, front page

WASHINGTON - A bill creating a national archaeological district at Chattanooga's Moccasin Bend passed the Senate early Wednesday morning but ultimately may fail in Congress' end-of-session maneuvering, according to lawmakers.

The bill's House sponsor, U.S. Rep. Zach Wamp, R-Tenn., said the bill to create a 780-acre district on the historically and culturally rich site faces problems because several other bills were attached to it by the Democratic-controlled Senate.

"There is an outside possibility that the Moccasin Bend legislation would be accepted with these ... other bills attached to it," the Chattanooga congressman said. "But I seriously doubt it, because House leadership said they were not going to allow other bills to be considered by unanimous consent that had not already been considered by the House."

Unanimous consent is a legislative procedure in which members are asked if they object to certain measures. If they don't object, the bills or amendments can be passed without most lawmakers being present.

Four bills were inserted into the Moccasin Bend legislation, according to Rep. Wamp. One created the Fort Bayard National Historic Landmark in New Mexico. Another created a Virgin River Dinosaur Footprint Reserve in Utah. A third bill sought to protect archaeological and cultural heritage sites by beefing up penalties for violations, and the fourth sought increased protections for paleontological sites nationwide, Rep. Wamp said.

Mickey Robbins, president of the park booster group Friends of Moccasin Bend, said he doesn't think the delay "is really going to make any difference in the long run. We're on such a positive trend. I don't think 30 or 45 or 60 days is going to make any difference."

The amended bill establishes a 780-acre district as a unit of the Chickamauga and Chattanooga National Military Park. Rep. Wamp originally had sought to create a separate park, but the proposal ran afoul of a presidential moratorium on new parks.

The bill excludes the current state mental hospital and a city-owned golf course on the Bend, but doesn't rule out eventually bringing these and other publicly owned land into the park.

The legislation enables the creation of a visitor interpretive center and requires the Department of the Interior to develop a general management plan within three years.

Rep. Wamp said the House technically will be in session on Friday, but leaders intend only to make corrections in legislation creating the new Department of Homeland Security. After that, the House adjourns for the year, Rep. Wamp said.

The Chattanooga lawmaker blamed Democrats, who are in control of the Senate, for delaying the Moccasin Bend bill.

"(The bill) was not brought to the floor earlier because Tom Daschle was the leader, and he held Republican-passed bills trying to get things he wanted done accomplished," Rep. Wamp said.

Efforts to contact Sen. Daschle, D-S.D., were unsuccessful. But Bill Wicker, the spokesman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said Sen. Daschle wasn't involved.

"I think it's a bit of a reach to point at Tom Daschle," Mr. Wicker said. "It (Congress) is at the end, and this is how often times things end up."

Mr. Wicker said the Moccasin Bend bill, which originally would have created a national park on the Bend, had been amended at the request of a Republican senator. That would have sent the bill back to the House anyway, he said.

U.S. Sen. Bill Frist, R-Tenn., said the bill appeared dead and Democrats were responsible. Frist spokesman Nick Smith said Wednesday the senator was sympathetic to Rep. Wamp's assertion that the Moccasin Bend bill would have passed much earlier in the session had Republicans been in control.

Mr. Wicker said a major deal involving more than 100 parks and public land bills was reached and many bill "packages" put together. Harvey Valentine, a spokesman for U.S. Sen. Fred Thompson, RTenn., said the senator had no problem with the attached bills.

Mr. Wicker said the legislation was approved early Wednesday morning.

Rep. Wamp said the proposal remains in good shape for passage next year, as Republicans will control the House and Senate.

"I'm very confident we can see successful passage of that bill through the House and the Senate early next year," he said.

Rep. Wamp said that, while the process will start all over again, he will start with the version passed by the Senate.

"We shouldn't have to go back through all the gyrations," he said.

Archaeology work has revealed Moccasin Bend to be rich in American Indian and Civil War history.

Cannon emplacements that Union soldiers constructed out of dirt during the 1863 siege of Chattanooga still are visible today, said Bobby Davenport, director of the land preservation group Trust for Public Land. The trust has purchased 97 acres of private land that later will become part of the national park system if the legislation passes.

"It's amazing to think we're standing right where the cannons would have been," Mr. Davenport said during a visit to the site.

Chattanoogan Jamie Russell, a member of the Cherokee Nation, said the Senate passage indicates headway in the fight to preserve Moccasin Bend, but he still doubts it ever will become reality.

"It seems like it's always kind of like a tease," he said. "I'll believe it when it's finally passed everything, and then we can sit back and breathe a sigh of relief."

Staff writer Angie Herrington contributed to this story.

E-mail Andy Sher at [email protected]

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