“We Have a Big Interest in Making This Right, Too,” Secretary Bernhardt Tells Hyde-Smith

U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today received a personal commitment from Interior Secretary David Bernhardt that the U.S. Department of the Interior is “100 percent there” to undertake urgent repairs to the storm-damaged Vicksburg National Military Park (VNMP) and Vicksburg National Cemetery.

Hyde-Smith sought Bernhardt’s commitment at a Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee hearing Wednesday.  She described how 28-inches of rainfall over two months caused severe soil erosion, road collapses, and damage to 64 gravesites of United States Colored Troops and other unknown burials from the 1860s.  Almost one third of the park is closed to visitors.

“I visited the park personally on February 21 and was astonished by the magnitude of damage, and the way those graves have just slidden into piles of mud,” Hyde-Smith said.

“The Vicksburg Military Park and National Cemetery are vital parts of American history and so important to the local economy, but more so those graves have been disturbed,” she told Bernhardt.  “I’m just asking for your commitment.  Will you commit to me that you will explore all available resources within your Department to address the damages at the Vicksburg National Military Park and Vicksburg National Cemetery as soon as possible?”

While noting that ongoing precipitation hinders a full damage assessment, Bernhardt committed to restoring the park and national cemetery.

“Resources are focused on it.  It’s obviously a very dynamic situation right now, but we are 100 percent there and we will be there.  And I will personally work on it.  We have a big interest in making this right, too,” Bernhardt said.

Hyde-Smith has worked to engage Interior Department officials on the damages and federal funding needs at the VNMP.  The National Park Service (NPS) Eastern Incident Management Team has been on site since March 1.  It is working with the Federal Highway Administration to begin damage assessments.

Hyde-Smith also discussed the matter during a Tuesday meeting on Capitol Hill with Vicksburg Mayor George Flaggs, Warren County Supervisors, and other Vicksburg Warren County Chamber of Commerce representatives.

Today’s hearing was the first the Senate Interior Appropriations Subcommittee will conduct to review FY2021 budget requests for the Department of the Interior, the NPS and other agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency.

Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith Press Release

3/4/2020