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Asbury Park Press Editorial - Sandy Hook
Time for answers on Fort Hancock

Published in the Asbury Park Press 9/17/04

An Asbury Park Press editorial

National Park Service representatives will attend a forum tomorrow to discuss plans for the redevelopment of Fort Hancock at Sandy Hook. It's the first opportunity residents will have to ask questions about the project since the Park Service signed a 60-year lease agreement with a private developer. It's an opportunity anyone concerned about the fate of Fort Hancock and Sandy Hook shouldn't miss.

The forum, to be held at 2 p.m. at Fort Hancock's Post Theatre, was scheduled after the Park Service surprised critics of the plan by signing a lease to restore and sublease 36 buildings three days before a planned meeting with Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J. The lease-signing took place before many outstanding questions about the project were satisfactorily answered. Among those we hope will be answered tomorrow:

What are the Park Service and the developer, Sandy Hook Partners, doing to prevent further deterioration of the most important buildings in Fort Hancock, including the 1878 Officers Club?

What percentage of the buildings being restored will be accessible to the general public? How will the Officers Club be used, and how much of it will be open to the public?

What percentage of the accommodations planned for Fort Hancock will be available to the general public, and what will be done to keep them affordable?

Who will the tenants be in the first phases of the project, and who will finance the building restorations?

What assurances has the Park Service given its current leaseholders -- primarily educational institutions providing a variety of programs that enrich thousands of schoolchildren each year -- that they will be allowed to remain in their present buildings?

How does the Park Service reconcile converting buildings in a national park for private, commercial use with its core mission of protecting federal parkland and making it available for public recreational use?

How could the Park Service certify a financial plan when there are so many unanswered questions about how the individual buildings will be used and by whom?

Does the lease agreement allow the developer to put up new construction on the footprints of buildings that have been allowed to deteriorate?

What assurances can the Park Service provide that Fort Hancock won't be turned into what amounts to a corporate conference center and retreat?The Park Service said it will send two associate regional directors to tomorrow's forum. That's fine, but Northeast Region Director Marie Rust -- who signed off on the lease agreement -- should cancel her weekend plans and attend the forum as well. Answers should come from the top. Concerned residents shouldn't be left with responses like "I'll get back to you," or "I'll pass along your concerns."

Residents deserve open, honest answers. They should head to Fort Hancock tomorrow and demand them.
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