Saturday , April 21, 2012 - 7:41 AM
President Barack Obama on Friday designated Fort Ord a national monument, completing its conversion from bustling military base to popular Monterey Peninsula recreation area,much to the consternation of a Utah congressman.
The designation will afford additional protection to the 7,200 acres, which is managed by the federal Bureau of Land Management. The presidential action decreed that no mining or geothermal development can take place in the monument and called for the development of a management plan that preserves it in perpetuity.
The designation bars off-road vehicles, but officials said the 86 miles of hiking, biking and horseback riding trails along the Central Coast will remain open.
Interior Secretary Ken Salazar announced the order, calling Fort Ord "one of the crown jewels" of the California coast. The designation was made after meetings with local groups. It has bipartisan political support, Salazar said.
"The president has heard the local community loud and clear," Salazar said. "Fort Ord is a national treasure that should and will be protected."
The sprawling property, which sits high above the Pacific and a dunes system, was transferred to the BLM in 1994 when the military closed the fort that had served as a way station for more than 1 1/2 million soldiers. Another 7,400 acres that are part of a Superfund site will be handed over to the bureau in 2019 after the land is cleared of toxic chemicals.
After the fort closed, it was not abandoned but transformed. Cal State Monterey Bay converted some of the Army’s buildings to classrooms and housing. Local nonprofit organizations took over some office space and the BLM took up management of rolling coastal scrubland.
Fort Ord is the home of the annual Sea Otter Classic, a biking competition and outdoor sports festival that draws about 10,000 athletes and 50,000 spectators.
The Fort Ord designation is only the second time Obama has invoked the Antiquities Act. He used it last year to create the Fort Monroe National Monument, a former Army post in Virginia with a rich cultural history dating from the Civil War.
The 1906 law has been used sparingly by presidents; Fort Ord is only the 17th national monument. Invoking the act can create tension among elected officials who have no veto over a presidential designation.
Recent history has left a bitter attitude toward monuments in the rural West. As President Bill Clinton was preparing to leave office in 1996, he signed off on sweeping monument designations throughout the intermountain West.
The so-called Midnight Monuments irked local officials who said they were not sufficiently informed of the plans. The nearly 2-million-acre Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in Utah remains a flash point and has offered a lesson to successive presidents to court local favor before making a designation.
Utah Republican Rep. Rob Bishop says Congress needs to curtail the President’s ability to designate such monuments.
"The Antiquities Act has long served as a mechanism for the President to circumvent Congress in order to make new land designations. When there is buy-in from the state and surrounding communities, new national monuments designations can be a good thing, but throughout history and in different Administrations we have seen the Antiquities Act misused as a tool to advance special interest agendas," Bishop said.
"If national monuments are welcomed additions to the state and surrounding communities then they should have no problem passing in congress on their own merits," he said. "There must be greater oversight in this process to ensure that the Antiquities Act is not being misused as a tool to unilaterally lock up lands from multiple use without the state’s consent."
Bishop says he remains concerned that without greater congressional oversight, the Antiquities Act will continue to enable the President to make new land designations without total transparency and public input.
"Therefore, I continue to support efforts in the House and Senate to advance policies aimed at bringing oversight to the national monument designation process. On Tuesday, the House passed an amendment with bipartisan support that would require approval by state-level elected officials before national monument restrictions are implemented," he said.
Salazar said there was virtually no opposition to the Fort Ord designation and that federal officials took pains to forge local support. He noted that the site has more than 100,000 annual visitors.
Salazar said the president has no immediate plans to name any other monuments.
The Standard-Examiner contributed to this report.
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