Guest opinion — Federal funds are being misused for Fort Knox fencing
The Friends of Fort Knox have released a letter that they sent to Maine’s Congressional delegation seeking their assistance addressing concerns the organization has concerning a fence project planned for the State Historic site. The letter was mailed last week to Senators Collins and King, and Representatives Michaud and Pingree, asking whether the federal FUDS (Formerly Used Defense Sites) funds were being appropriately used for this project and if the public was able to provide meaningful input. The proposed project calls for the installation of 1,800 inches of gray galvanized fence and 300 feet of plantings at various locations at the State Historic site.
The Friends say that the have heard from many people concerned that the fencing will detract from the historical integrity and visitor experience at the National Historic Landmark. The Friends Board of Directors voted not to sign a Memorandum of Agreement for the project and has expressed their concerns about the project to the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands, Maine Historic Preservation Commission and the Army Corps of Engineers. The letter to the Maine Congressional delegation follows:
The Friends of Fort Knox (FFK) Board of Directors is requesting your assistance in a matter that involves federal funding for a project that is planned for the Fort Knox State Historic site. The project calls for the installation of approximately 1800’ of galvanized fencing and 300’ of plantings, which is being called a fall prevention program, by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands. The funding for this fence project is coming from a program known as FUDS (Formerly Used Defense Sites).
The Friends have looked into this program and found that the FUDS program is usually utilized to remove hazardous materials, unexploded ordnance, dangerous buildings and correcting other environmental issues. FFK has not been able to readily find other formerly used defense sites, which are also National Historic Landmarks, where FUDS funds were used for fall prevention. FFK wonders whether the FUDS program is being utilized correctly in the case of Fort Knox and if this is a wise expenditure of federal funding?
FFK understands that the stated intent of the fence project is to enhance safety and prevent injuries from falls. While no one wants to see anyone injured, FFK is concerned that the size and scope of this project will detract and have a negative impact on this historic asset. FFK believes that enhanced safety can be achieved without the planned for substantial visual and physical changes to Fort Knox.
FFK was initially informed by a representative of the Maine Bureau of Parks and Lands (BPL), over a year ago, that there would be a public hearing on this project so that the community could express their opinion. The organization seeing that the project was advancing with no public hearing process wrote to the project proponents in July, asking that they convene a hearing on the fence project. Project proponents did convene a hastily and poorly advertised public informational meeting, which was held at Fort Knox, Wednesday, July 31st. The public who were able to attend the informational meeting expressed opposition to the scale and scope of the project.
After the public information hearing, representatives of FFK, met with project proponents in Augusta, Maine, as a follow up and to ask additional questions about the FUDS program and the project itself. The FFK representatives left the meeting with continuing questions about the appropriateness of FUDS funds for this project, if the fencing was to prohibit public access to large tracts of the Fort property and what the final project plan actually is?
The Friends of Fort Knox are a nonprofit, volunteer driven organization, formed in 1991, to save the State Historic site, when the structures roof was in danger of collapse. The Friends’ mission statement reads: The Friends of Fort Knox mission is to preserve Fort Knox and enhance its educational, cultural and economic value for the people of Maine. The organization has raised millions of dollars and undertaken numerous Fort restoration and improvement projects during the past two decades.
The Fort Knox State Historic site represents one of the best-preserved Third System coastal defense fortifications in the country today. Construction of the massive granite structure, located on the banks of the Penobscot River, began in 1844 and concluded in 1869. The State of Maine purchased Fort Knox in 1923 and it became part of the Maine State Park system, in 1943. Fort Knox is owned by the Maine Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Conservation’s Bureau of Parks and Lands and managed through lease, by the Friends of Fort Knox, for the people of Maine.
The FFK Board of Directors hopes that you can clarify whether this project is appropriate for FUDS funding and if the public is able to provide meaningful input to minimize the potential adverse impacts to this historic Maine jewel.
On Behalf of the Friends of Fort Knox Board of Directors,