PALLONE REQUESTS INTERIOR DEPARTMENT'S INSPECTOR GENERAL INVESTIGATE FORT HANCOCK LEASE AGREEMENT
U.S. Rep. Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ) today called on the Inspector General of the U.S. Department of Interior to investigate the three-year-old lease agreement between the National Park Service (NPS) and Sandy Hook Partners (SHP) involving the redevelopment of Fort Hancock. The New Jersey congressman formally requested the investigation in a letter sent today to Earl Devaney, the Inspector General at the Interior Department.
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The request comes three days after NPS once again extended the lease agreement, giving SHP, which is owned by James Wassel, more time to come up with the money to renovate nearly one-third of the buildings that make up Fort Hancock at the Gateway National Recreation Area's Sandy Hook Unit.
"From my vantage point, this entire process has been a debacle," Pallone wrote in his letter to Inspector General Devaney. "Beyond the commercialization concerns, the National Park Service should have never signed this lease agreement without SHP demonstrating the requisite financing to complete the plan. I have been told of similar circumstances where NPS officials at other sites refused to enter into lease agreements for commercial development without evidence of sufficient financial resources.
"Accordingly, I request that your office open an immediate investigation into the matter. Principally, in light of the fact that SHP did not provide any proof of financing at the time of the agreement, why did the National Park Service approve the deal? Are there any financial requirements currently in place within the National Park Service that must be met before a lease agreement can be made? If so, were those requirements met in the case of the agreement signed between the NPS and SHP? Finally, is there any requirement that SHP submit to NPS any loan agreements that have been made with outside entities?
"Finally, are there any prohibitions or limits on the NPS' ability to continue extensions of the lease agreement? To date, as many as four or five extensions have been granted for six months or a year," Pallone continued in his letter to the Inspector General. "Does NPS require any proof of financing to approve these extensions? Can extensions continue to be granted in the future? Essentially, when does the process end? When would the contract be extinguished so that we can move on to other options that would not involve private redevelopment?"
Under the terms of the lease, SHP agreed to renovate 36 of Fort Hancock's 100 buildings. The conceptual plans indicated that redevelopment would include the opening of private businesses such as bed and breakfasts and cafes in the renovated buildings. It was this over-commercialization of the Fort that initially led Pallone to oppose the plan.
However, the New Jersey congressman also seriously questioned Wassel's ability to produce the necessary funds to move forward with the three phase project. Those fears have been realized over the last three years as NPS has granted Wassel repeated lease extensions due to SHP's lack of financial resources.
Both the NPS and SHP have used a lawsuit filed by concerned citizens as an excuse for these continued delays, but Pallone seriously questions why this agreement remains in place if Wassel cannot meet any of the promises he made back in 2004.