Park Service takeover of Gettysburg station slows to a halt



WASHINGTON -- The time seemed ripe for the National Park Service to take over operations of the oft-overlooked Lincoln Train Station in Gettysburg, Pa., but as the town prepared for the 150th anniversary of the defining Civil War battle, lawmakers in Washington still couldn't agree on a bill.

Everyone, it seems, favors the takeover of the station along with 45 acres of Gettysburg National Military Park, but lawmakers in Washington are wrestling with legislative language authorizing the transfer. The concern is over precedent for future transfers of park land in other parts of the country.

Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., wants to include a provision that would allow the Interior Department secretary to buy property from willing sellers if efforts to acquire it at no cost have been exhausted. It also would prevent the secretary from using eminent domain to force owners to sell.

Rep. Scott Perry, R-York, sponsor of the House version of the bill, says that language is unnecessary because the private Gettysburg Foundation already has agreed to buy the property from the borough for $700,000 and donate it to the park service.

But Mr. Casey said the acquisition provision in the bill makes it more likely to pass.

"We're living in an era of scarce resources and a lot of skepticism about government," he said in a telephone interview. "We're trying to make this work."

Mr. Perry said the language is potentially harmful because it sets a precedent for other acquisitions.

"My bill applies to these two pieces of property only. It doesn't apply to other places, so I don't see a problem," he said in a telephone interview from his district office in Cumberland County.

"The House bill doesn't cost the taxpayers any money but the Senate version opens the doors to purchasing land," Mr. Perry said. With a $17 trillion debt, House members aren't interested in that, he said.

Operational costs for the park service are expected to be minimal, a spokesman in Mr. Perry's office said.

In 2006, the train station underwent a $2.8 million renovation paid for with a combination of state grants, federal funding and private contributions. But funding and interest in the project waned before developers could turn it into the kind of interactive museum they imagined.

Instead it now serves as a visitor's center with a few historic artifacts on display. Utility costs are covered by the $1,000 rent paid by the Gettysburg Convention and Visitors Bureau, which staffs a small information desk inside.

Mr. Perry and Mr. Casey hope to have an agreement -- and a law authorizing the transfer -- before Nov. 19. That will be the 150th anniversary of the Gettysburg Address. President Abraham Lincoln passed through the train station on his way to deliver the famous speech dedicating the Soldiers' National Cemetery.

"Everybody that has anything to do with this particular property -- the foundation, the borough, the Visitors Bureau, everybody -- is ready for this to happen," Mr. Perry said. "We just need Congress to make it happen."

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Bureau Chief Tracie Mauriello: tmauriello@post-gazette.com, 703-996-9292 or on Twitter @pgPoliTweets. First Published July 5, 2013 4:00 AM


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