WELLFLEET — After a three-year hiatus, the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission could be on track to begin meeting again.
The commission, which provides input from Lower Cape towns on policies and programs in the National Seashore, has been dormant since its authorization expired in September 2018. Legislation is working its way through the U.S. Senate to reauthorize the commission, but whether or not the bill passes, and how long that might take, remains to be seen.
For now, federal legislators are celebrating the Senate Energy and Natural Resource Committee's Nov. 18 vote to pass the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission Reauthorization Act. If passed in both the Senate and House of Representatives, the bill would clear the way for meetings to once again be held by the commission through 2029.
A division of the National Park Service, the seashore comprises more than 43,000 acres of open space, including 40 miles of coastal land and beaches stretching from Chatham to the Cape's tip in Provincetown.
In a joint statement, U.S. Senators Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren lauded the committee's passage of the bill, as well as their own legislation to protect the Essex National Heritage Area.
"By reauthorizing both the Cape Cod National Seashore Advisory Commission and the Essex National Heritage Area, we will help protect invaluable parklands, preserve regional history, and restore community involvement in safeguarding Massachusetts' natural wonders," Markey said in the statement. "I am proud that these bills passed out of committee today, and look forward to working with my Senate colleagues to ensure their swift passage."
The commission most recently comprised 15 members, including residents and town officials from the Lower and Outer Cape as well as county officials. First authorized in 1961, the commission acts as a liaison between seashore officials and the Lower and Outer Cape communities and the Secretary of the Interior on matters related to the Seashore.
"It's an esteemed group of people who are invested in the seashore and want to work to continue to see it succeed," said Brian Carlstrom, superintendent of the Cape Cod National Seashore.
For Carlstrom, the commission has offered an efficient way to interact with the towns in the park's jurisdiction. Through it, the Seashore can communicate with all stakeholders directly through meeting agendas, minutes and other official correspondence, he said.
Without the commission, however, the process for communicating with local, county and state officials has been disjointed.
"Having the commission in place provides a ready-made, defined structure for communicating what's going on in the seashore with the Outer Cape community, the county and the state," he said. "We still do that without it, but it's not through a definitive process. It's a lot more disjunct. There isn't anything formal about it."
And from parking lot and bike trail improvements to the relocation of some seashore facilities to protect them against erosion, much has happened since the commission stopped meeting, noted Richard Delaney, the commission's most recent sitting chairman.
"All of those have some impact on the towns," he said. "Fortunately, Superintendent Carlstrom has been very open to receiving comments and advice, at least informally, from the towns. He has a great relationship with everyone."
The pathway to getting the commission up and going again would be a clear one if the bill passes with both the House and the Senate, Carlstrom said.
"The way the bill is currently written, it would stand up the [commission] with the prior commissioners in place again," he said. "It would revert back to the prior membership."
That's assuming all of the members are still interested or available to serve. Filling an open seat on the commission is "an involved process" that requires jurisdictional selection and vetting from the Department of the Interior, Carlstrom said.
At least two seats will need to be filled due to the deaths of Joseph Craig, Chatham's representative to the commission, and Truro representative Maureen Burgess, Delaney said. Meanwhile, it's up to the Secretary of the Interior to appoint a chairman, he said.
Looking forward, Delaney said there's no shortage of issues for the commission to tackle if reauthorized. At the top of the list would be prioritizing how funding from the Great American Outdoors Act, which provides $9.5 billion for overdue maintenance and repair projects to be done across the National Park Service, might be spent in the seashore.
Delaney said the seashore's cut of the federal funding will be "significant."
Beyond that, there are any number of issues that can come up that the commission can weigh in on, from the use of jet skis in the seashore's boundaries to wildlife management and the use of off-road vehicles on beaches.
"You never know when those kinds of issues will come up, but having the commission in place gives the superintendent an immediate option to get some feedback," Delaney said.
Seashore officials have fielded questions from residents curious about the state of the commission, Carlstrom said. However, there is no way of knowing if and when the bill will pass into law.
"It's the wheels of Congress, and those can go pretty slow at times," Carlstrom said.
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