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Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick working on monument expansion

CASA GRANDE, Ariz. -- U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick said at Casa Grande Ruins National Monument during an open house in Coolidge recently that progress is being made on a bill that would expand the boundaries of the monument.

The 1st District Democrat introduced the Casa Grande Ruins National Monument Boundary Modification Act of 2013 on June 25. If it is passed, control of several pieces of land will transfer from various agencies to the National Park Service in the interest of preserving cultural artifacts that might be located on the land.

"We are standing on ground that is one of the most culturally rich in the world," Kirkpatrick said. "This is the best preserved of 13th century Hohokam culture."

If passed and signed by the president, the National Park Service would immediately receive land from the U.S. Bureau of Land Management that is connected to the southeast corner of the current boundary. The secretary of the Interior would then negotiate a deal between the Park Service and the Bureau of Indian Affairs for land connected to the northeast corner of the park.

"Both those areas are very rich in cultural resources in American history, and something both those agencies are interested in preserving," said Park Superintendent Karl Cordova.

Deals for land near the Coolidge Wal-Mart, which is currently owned by Archaeological Conservancy in an attempt to preserve the area until the bill passes, and state land east of Coolidge that contains the Adamsville Ruins, would also be negotiated.

Kirkpatrick has received bipartisan support from her colleagues in southern Arizona, with co-sponsors including Republican Rep. Paul Gosar and Democratic Reps. Ed Pastor and Raul Grijalva.

"It's really an honor to be a part of this team," Kirkpatrick said. "I think we have a great opportunity to not only preserve this historic culture but improve the economy in the Coolidge area."

As noted by Doug Craig from the Friends of the Casa Grande Ruins advocacy organization, support for the bill in Pinal County has been close to universal.

"It's not hard getting local support," Craig said. "Everyone in Coolidge, no matter what side of the political aisle they're on, knows that what's good for the Casa Grande Ruins is good for Coolidge. The problem is trying to raise the profile on the national level."

This is not the first time a boundary expansion bill has been introduced. Stakeholders in the Ruins have been pushing for it since 2000. In 2006, then-Rep. Rick Renzi proposed a bill that never gained much traction. Then in 2010, during Kirkpatrick's first term in Congress, she introduced a bill that received 58 percent support in the House. But because of the way the bill was introduced, it required a two-thirds majority to pass and thus failed.

This time around, the only major opponent might be time.

"We're talking with the (Committee on National Resources) about putting it on the agenda, but it might not be until late in the year," Kirkpatrick said. "As many of you have heard, Congress will be returning on Monday, and of course the first big issue we'll face is Syria. And then we'll be moving on to funding the government, and then the debt ceiling. So we have three big issues that we'll have to address in short order. But we'll keep working with the committee as that goes on to make sure it's moving forward."

Kirkpatrick said she proposed the bill for multiple reasons.

"My vision for our district is a diversified, stable economy in the 21st century," she said. "But we have a history of an extremely diverse culture and economic center of commerce right here. So what we're trying to do with the expansion is connect the 13th century Hohokam culture with the 21st century economy."

Penny Pew, the constituency services director for Gosar's office, also spoke out in support for the bill at the open house, complimenting the writers' thorough language. Gosar had spoken in 2011 about expanding the boundaries when his district included the Ruins.

"The Casa Grande Ruins are one of our state's great treasures," Pew said. "We need to protect it the right way, and the congressman is working on that."

To be this close to getting the expansion completed is gratifying to the many people who have worked so long to see this happen.

"It's gratifying to see such overwhelming support," Craig said. "We've been working on this for over a decade now, so it's very fulfilling to see it finally starting to see fruition."

Barnaby Lewis, tribal historical preservation officer for the Gila River Indian Community and a descendant of the Hohokam people who built the "Big House," spoke briefly about what the bill means to him and his people.

"This is a really significant site that holds a great deal of spirituality for the people of the Gila River Indian Community," Lewis said. "This place is something of great reverence, and we always appreciate the efforts of the Casa Grande Ruins (monument). We've been in favor of the expansion of the boundaries for many, many years, so we really hope the legislation is successful this time around."

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