We are proud of the tremendous growth and vitality the city of Vancouver experienced over the 22 years when we had the honor to serve as mayor. Many of the city’s accomplishments are a result of forging great partnerships, but experience has shown time and again that one professed partner of the city does not understand the meaning of partnership. This would be the National Park Service.
The recent confiscation of the M.J. Murdock Aviation Center/Pearson Air Museum Complex by the NPS is perhaps the most flagrant example of deception and aggression by the NPS, but it is just one more incident in a long line of such experiences. We participated in discussions with the NPS regarding the establishment of the museum, and we supported the contract that gave the community the opportunity to work with the city to develop this wonderful asset. In good faith we asked for and received the support of the Murdock Trust, which provided $3 million of the $4.2 million to create the museum. All we asked for and all we received from the NPS was permission to build the museum on 7 acres that the city had previously owned.
The NPS now declares that since the community built the museum on NPS property, the NPS owns and has a right to control the museum. We do not agree, and it is certainly not ethically justifiable.
Obviously, the NPS does not feel bound by its agreements, or it would not have terminated the contract that was to be in place until at least 2025 for the city to operate the museum, which it was doing successfully with the Fort Vancouver National Trust. The contract states that the community was allowed to build the museum on NPS land “because the principal purpose of the relationship is to carry out a public purpose … rather than to acquire property or services for the direct benefit or use of the United States Government.” Unfortunately, we believed the NPS would act in accordance with this provision.
Actually, we should not be surprised. The city supported the creation of the 366-acre historic reserve in 1996 as a place where public interest would be balanced through mutually agreed upon standards as opposed to a unilateral imposition of regulations by the city or the NPS. This is clearly what was intended by the legislation that established the historic site. We know. We participated in those discussions and supported this legislation. Yet our experience over many years is that the NPS has simply disregarded legislative intent and seeks to impose unilateral control at every opportunity.
Just an illusion
The NPS does give the illusion of being a good partner when it best serves NPS interests. For example, beginning in 2007 the city and the Fort Vancouver National Trust made several trips to Washington, D.C., to meet with Department of Interior officials to advocate for the transfer of the East and South Barracks from the Army to the NPS. DOI officials emphatically stated this would not happen because the NPS could not even afford its current obligations. On the promise that it would be a partnership managed and supported asset and with eager agreement by local NPS officials, the DOI finally relented. The NPS now controls the East and South Barracks and rejects any input from site partners. It is now boarded up and the NPS reported to our congressional delegation that it will remain so for years to come, even though the NPS was given more than $12 million by the Army to improve the property.
There are many more such examples, but we foolishly kept believing the NPS would change and become a true partner as mandated by Congress. It won’t, and the confiscation of the museum only drives home the point. However, there is a solution for the museum with legislation to transfer the museum from the NPS to the city. Please contact Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler to support their effort to return the museum to the community.
Bruce Hagensen served as Vancouver’s mayor from 1988 until 1996, after which Royce Pollard held the position until 2010. Each served on the City Council prior to their election as mayor.