Mr. KINGSTON. Mr. Speaker, I rise to support passage of S. 535, the Fort Pulaski National Monument Lease Authorization Act, which would allow the Savannah Bar Pilots 10-year leases for their operating base on Cockspur Island which they have used continuously in cooperation with the National Park Service since 1940. I also would like to thank Chairman HASTINGS and Chairman BISHOP for holding hearings and bringing this bill to the Floor today.
The Savannah Bar Pilots were founded in 1864, making them one of the nation's oldest pilots associations. Since then, they have helped Savannah grow into the nation's fourth largest seaport and fastest growing port on the East Coast. Bar Pilots assist cargo ships navigating the Savannah River and guide them 20 miles upriver to either the Georgia Port Authority's Garden City Terminal or Ocean Terminal, both of which make up the Savannah Port.
The Bar Pilots' expertise is essential in helping ships reach the terminals. Every cargo ship above 200 gross tons--which is nearly every ship that calls on the Port of Savannah--must have a bar pilot on board. After an incoming ship contacts the pilots and a meeting is established, the pilots depart from their operating base on Cockspur Island and are ferried on one of several pilot boats up to 12 miles offshore to the ``pilotage grounds.'' There they board the cargo ship and safely guide them through the channel. Cockspur Island is the ideal location for the operating base, situated just inside the mouth of the Savannah River separating the north and south channel. Other than this location, there is no other available land near the Savannah River entrance from which the pilot boats can quickly and efficiently reach the pilotage grounds in the Atlantic. If the pilots are forced to move, they would have to move inland, leading to longer transit times and ship delays, increased safety risks in stormy weather, and increased fuel usage. The Bar Pilots' use of the Park Service land is a unique situation in which the pilots provide a crucial public service and also act as good neighbors to one of Coastal Georgia's most treasured historic sites.
S. 535 will allow the Bar Pilots to have 10-year leases with the National Park Service. Bar Pilots have been using this land since 1940 under a Special Lease Permit agreement, sometimes having to renew the permit on a year-to-year basis. The National Park Service, the Bar Pilots, and local authorities have worked together to draft this language which will save all parties involved time and paperwork. Additionally, the language protects the integrity of the park and Fort Pulaski National Monument. The language explicitly states that the rental fee paid by the Bar Pilots will be based on a fair market value and be subject to change by the Secretary of the Interior if property preservation, maintenance, or repair require increased outlays. This bill is identical to H.R. 4773, also titled the For Pulaski National Monument Lease Authorization Act, which passed the House during the 111th Congress.
I thank Chairman HASTINGS and Ranking Member LUJÁN for their support of S. 535, and I urge my colleagues to pass the bill.