In Our View: Rescuing Pearson

Congresswoman increases pressure on NPS to resolve management dispute

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Jaime Herrera Beutler is rolling out the figurative heavy artillery — a legislative fix — in her efforts to restore the Pearson Air Museum to its proper role as a vital center for community learning and gathering. Thursday the Republican Congresswoman from Camas introduced a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that would convey seven acres of land from the National Park Service to the City of Vancouver. The parcel includes the air museum, main and historic hangars, headquarters and munitions building.

The museum was closed, emptied and vacated last week by the Fort Vancouver National Trust after a dispute with the National Park Service over management of the facilities.

Herrera Beutler's actions deserve praise for at least three reasons.

She acted forthrightly, introducing the bill only one week after the museum closed.

Second, her action was preceded by careful deliberation and long-standing efforts. She has worked with federal officials for almost a year, trying to settle this dispute. On June 20, 2012, Herrera Beutler sent a letter to Tracy Fortmann, Fort Vancouver National Historic Site superintendent, urging a resolution of the dispute and a return to shared policies that had maximized public events at the museum for many years.

Third, Herrera Beutler's bill is not instantly decisive. It allows time for NPS officials come up with their own solution. Herrera Beutler acknowledged in a Thursday statement: "Forcing this change through congressional action was not my first choice. I am still hopeful that the National Park Service will work out a solution with the City (of Vancouver) and the Trust … ."

But if that doesn't happen, Congress could intervene by authorizing the land conveyance. We urge Herrera Beutler to expedite approval of her bill in both chambers of Congress. In the long run, that might be the best solution anyway. Pearson Air Museum should be managed with local autonomy.

The concept of conveying federal land to local officials is supported in various forms by at least two precedents. The West Barracks area was transferred by the U.S. Army to the City of Vancouver a few years ago. And ownership of Camp Bonneville, the former artillery range in east Clark County, was transferred by Army officials to the county.

It's unfortunate that this predicament ever developed. NPS officials say they were surprised the museum was vacated, and there was no intention to evict the Fort Vancouver National Trust. But trust officials say new management policies were unacceptable. At any rate, that's in the past. What matters now is for NPS officials to understand (1) Herrera Beutler's resolve and (2) how serious this community is about returning Pearson Air Museum to its former position as a destination for visitors and an iconic venue for local residents. Illustrative of that local support is the "Save Pearson Air Museum" Facebook page that has drawn almost 1,200 likes as of Thursday afternoon.

A swift solution is needed. If the NPS can't fix this problem soon, Congress must.