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108th Congress Report
HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
1st Session 108-254
EASTERN BAND OF CHEROKEE INDIANS LAND EXCHANGE ACT OF 2002
September 3, 2003.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on
the State of the Union and ordered to be printed
Mr. Pombo, from the Committee on Resources, submitted the following
R E P O R T
[To accompany H.R. 1409]
[Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]
The Committee on Resources, to whom was referred the bill
(H.R. 1409) to provide for a Federal land exchange for the
environmental, educational, and cultural benefit of the
American public and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, and
for other purposes, having considered the same, report
favorably thereon without amendment and recommend that the bill
PURPOSE OF THE BILL
The purpose of H.R. 1409 is to provide for a federal land
exchange for the environmental, educational, and cultural
benefit of the American public and the Eastern Band of Cherokee
Indians, and for other purposes.
BACKGROUND AND NEED FOR LEGISLATION
H.R. 1409 provides a land exchange between the National
Park Service and the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, whose
reservation is located in western North Carolina. Land acquired
by the tribe under this exchange would be used for the
construction of a new educational campus for its youth.
Specifically, the bill provides for an exchange of
approximately 143 acres of public land (called the ``Ravensford
Tract'') in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, for 218
acres of private land (called the ``Yellow Face Tract'') owned
by the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians. The Ravensford Tract
would be held in trust and included in the adjoining Cherokee
reservation. The Yellow Face Tract consists of pristine land
with high habitat value for certain endangered species, and
would be preserved as part of the Blue Ridge Parkway, which it
abuts. The Yellow Face Tract has been appraised at a higher
value than the Ravensford Tract.
Ancestors of the Eastern Band have lived in an area
comprising parts of seven eastern states, including land that
is now the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The present-day
tribe consists of those Cherokees who were able to avoid
forcible removal to Oklahoma over the Trail of Tears.
Today, the Eastern Band has an educational crisis. Almost
800 elementary school children on the Reservation attend
classes in a dilapidated facility which has the capacity for
only 480 students. The school and its temporary classrooms are
located at a dangerous highway intersection in downtown
Cherokee and parts of it have been condemned as unsafe.
At the Committee hearing on H.R. 1409, Principal Chief Leon
Jones testified the most important issue facing the Eastern
Band of Cherokee is the education of their children.
Legislation to accomplish this land exchange is necessary for
the tribe to construct a new school. Most of the tribe's
existing reservation is mountainous, and the Ravensford Tract
has been identified by the tribe as being ideally suited for
the construction of a new, safe educational campus. The terrain
is flat, accessible, and located away from the dangerous
intersection where the existing school is situated. With an
existing road, the site formerly hosted a lumber mill.
The bill restricts development on the Ravensford Tract to
that necessary for supporting school facilities. The Eastern
Band plans to construct on the Ravensford Tract a new
educational campus emphasizing traditional Cherokee values,
including the preservation of the natural environment. Gaming
on the property is specifically prohibited. Consistent with the
Eastern Band's conservation ethic, the bill contains language
requiring the Park Service and the tribe to develop mutually
agreed upon standards for the construction of the school so
that it meets the tribe's educational needs while any adverse
impacts on natural or cultural resources are mitigated.
Though the tribe has already spent over $1.5 million in
studies and preparation for the land exchange, an environmental
impact statement process undertaken by the National Park
Service regarding the land exchange has been too lengthy, and
there are major concerns as to its adequacy.
Cherokee student Cory Blankenship said before the Resources
Committee in a hearing on H.R. 1409, ``In the last decade, over
3.5 million acres nationwide have been placed under the
protection of the National Park Service. We are asking only for
143 acres to help us build our schools and preserve our
On a historical note, the Cherokee people can stake a moral
claim to the Ravensford Tract. In the 1940s, the parcel was
supposed to be conveyed to the Cherokee as part of a deal in
which the Indians gave up land so the government could build
the Blue Ridge Parkway through their Reservation. But the
Congress, for reasons that are unclear, deleted this part of
the deal after it was agreed to.
In managing public lands, Congress must weigh impacts of
proposed land exchanges on the lands involved and the purposes
served. In this case, there is almost no comparison. The
benefit to the Eastern Band's children of what is the only
feasible location for a new school campus far outweighs the
impact to the public's interest in retaining the Ravensford
Tract in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. In fact, the
National Park System as a whole gains a net benefit from the
addition of the larger, pristine Yellow Face Tract to the Blue
H.R. 1409 was introduced on March 20, 2003, by Congressman
Charles Taylor (R-NC). The bill was referred to the Committee
on Resources. On June 18, 2003, the Full Committee held a
hearing on the bill. On July 15, 2003, the Full Resources
Committee met to consider the bill. No amendments were offered
and the bill was favorably reported to the House of
Representatives by voice vote.
COMMITTEE OVERSIGHT FINDINGS AND RECOMMENDATIONS
Regarding clause 2(b)(1) of rule X and clause 3(c)(1) of
rule XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives, the
Committee on Resources' oversight findings and recommendations
are reflected in the body of this report.
CONSTITUTIONAL AUTHORITY STATEMENT
Article I, section 8 of the Constitution of the United
States grants Congress the authority to enact this bill.
COMPLIANCE WITH HOUSE RULE XIII
1. Cost of Legislation. Clause 3(d)(2) of rule XIII of the
Rules of the House of Representatives requires an estimate and
a comparison by the Committee of the costs which would be
incurred in carrying out this bill. However, clause 3(d)(3)(B)
of that Rule provides that this requirement does not apply when
the Committee has included in its report a timely submitted
cost estimate of the bill prepared by the Director of the
Congressional Budget Office under section 402 of the
Congressional Budget Act of 1974.
2. Congressional Budget Act. As required by clause 3(c)(2)
of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives and
section 308(a) of the Congressional Budget Act of 1974, this
bill does not contain any new budget authority, spending
authority, credit authority, or an increase or decrease in
revenues or tax expenditures.
3. General Performance Goals and Objectives. This bill does
not authorize funding and therefore, clause 3(c)(4) of rule
XIII of the Rules of the House of Representatives does not
4. Congressional Budget Office Cost Estimate. Under clause
3(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of
Representatives and section 403 of the Congressional Budget Act
of 1974, the Committee has received the following cost estimate
for this bill from the Director of the Congressional Budget
Congressional Budget Office,
Washington, DC, August 27, 2003.
Hon. Richard Pombo,
Chairman, Committee on Resources,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 1409, the Eastern
Band of Cherokee Indians Land Exchange Act of 2002.
If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Deborah Reis.
H.R. 1409--Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians Land Exchange Act of 2002
H.R. 1409 would require the National Park Service (NPS) to
exchange 143 acres of land (known as the Ravensford tract)
within the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Blue
Ridge Parkway for a 218-acre parcel (Yellow Face tract) owned
by the Eastern Band of the Cherokee Indians. The bill also
would authorize the NPS to execute cooperative agreements with
the band to facilitate management of the Ravensford tract by
providing training on resources preservation and
CBO estimates that the federal government would not incur
any significant cost to carry out the required land exchange,
implement cooperative agreements with the Eastern Band of
Cherokee Indians, or develop or administer the 218-acre
addition to the park. We further estimate that enactment of the
bill would not affect revenues or direct spending. For this
estimate, CBO assumes that the properties to be exchanged would
be determined by NPS to be roughly equal in value (less than
$700,000) although final appraisals of the two tracts have not
been approved by the NPS. In any event, we do not expect that
any equalization payments would be made to complete the land
exchange. This estimate is based on information provided by the
NPS and the Eastern Band of Cherokees.
H.R. 1409 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act and
would impose no costs on state, local, or tribal governments.
This exchange would benefit the tribe, and any costs they would
incur to comply with conditions included in the bill would be
The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Deborah Reis.
This estimate was approved by Peter H. Fontaine, Deputy
Assistant Director for Budget Analysis.
COMPLIANCE WITH PUBLIC LAW 104-4
This bill contains no unfunded mandates.
PREEMPTION OF STATE, LOCAL OR TRIBAL LAW
This bill is not intended to preempt any State, local or
CHANGES IN EXISTING LAW
If enacted, this bill would make no changes in existing
H.R. 1409--Eastern Band of Cherokee Land Exchange
The history of the Cherokee people is one of amazing
triumph against so many odds. It is a story of broken treaties
and stolen lands. It is the story of a great Indian nation
hunted by the U.S. Cavalry, split at the seams, and forced
either to escape to the mountains or to trudge along on a death
march to a strange land.
Between 1700 and 1838 the Cherokee Nation lost some 100,000
square miles of original territory to settlements of Europeans
moving to this land. Yet those who were able to escape the
Trail of Tears and live in the mountains of North Carolina
stayed together and rebuilt their nation. Today the Eastern
Band of Cherokee Indians is a vibrant Indian tribe with over
12,500 enrolled members. By all accounts, the Band is
successful and hard working. The Band has asked Congress to
approve a land swap so that it may have the space needed to
build schools to better educate their children. I have nothing
but respect for the Eastern Band and its admirable goals,
however, at this time I must object to the further
consideration of H.R. 1409.
There is no excuse for the condition of the education
facilities found on many Indian reservations across this
country. Far too often, Native Americans are forced to endure
substandard housing, medical facilities and educational
facilities that many Americans would find shocking.
However, it is not clear to me that carving out large
chunks from the middle of our national parks, as H.R. 1409
would have us do, is the best solution to this problem. This
legislation will create a 143-acre hole in the middle of the
most visited national park in America.
Once the large construction project planned for this site
is completed, visitors to Great Smoky Mountains National Park
will no longer see a sprawling, green, undeveloped valley.
Rather, they will see three massive buildings, roads, utility
lines, and as many as six athletic fields, each with its own
lighting system that will light up what used to be a dark night
While it is not my contention that the children of the
Eastern Band of Cherokee do not deserve such a beautiful and
large educational complex, is the middle of a National Park
really the only place it can be built?
Two groups, the National Park Service and a coalition of
non-profit environmental groups are exploring this very
question. The NPS is putting the finishing touches on an
Environmental Impact Statement that will address the obvious
impacts this planned construction will have on the Park's
resources as well as the possibility of building the schools
The non-profit groups have also publicly pledged to work
with the Tribe to find an alternative site.
And yet we are moving full steam ahead with this
legislation, cutting off the NEPA process and abandoning any
attempt to find a way to provide good schools for the Tribe
without impacting a national treasure.
Such a move raises a variety of very serious concerns, not
the least of which is the terrible precedent this legislation
will set. I had hoped to work with the sponsor and the Tribe to
address these concerns but have not received much cooperation.
Let me be clear that this Committee is not always so eager
to jump to give land back to an Indian tribe in need. We were
scheduled to mark up another bill the day H.R. 1409 was
considered to distribute Indian Claims Commission judgment
funds to the Western Shoshone Indians. The problem is that many
Western Shoshone want their land back and have been fighting to
regain at least some of their lost land for decades. That bill
does not get them one step closer to that goal.
Is the need for land by the Western Shoshone to house their
members from the desert sun or eke out a living grazing their
cattle any less valid than the needs of the Eastern Band of
Of course not, but the land taken from the Western Shoshone
is known to be extremely valuable to mining companies.
Estimates put mining receipts from gold and other minerals in
the tens of billions since the 1960's.
Will this Committee act to return that kind of value back
to the Native Americans it was taken from? These
inconsistencies are at least some of the issues that need to be
resolved before either of these bills go before the full House
Legislation of this magnitude, which will impact the most
visited national park in the country in such a powerful and
potentially negative way, must be considered very carefully.
At this point, I do not support the inclusion of H.R. 1409
on the House Suspension Calendar. It is my hope that, prior to
any consideration of the bill on the House floor, some of the
very real concerns with this bill will be addressed and that a
solution which works both for the Tribe and the Park could be
I look forward to continuing to work with the Tribe and
with the sponsor of this legislation.
Nick J. Rahall II