Attacking America’s Heritage

September 3, 2002

By Peyton Knight

The newest threat to property rights, the foundation of American liberty, is posed by H.R. 2388, “The National Heritage Areas Policy Act.” Sponsored by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), H.R. 2388 is due for a vote any day now in the House of Representatives. H.R. 2388 creates a process whereby National Heritage Areas are created. It dangles federal tax dollars under the noses of the states, essentially begging them to designate land as a Heritage Area.

Once land is designated, it is subject to the whims and dictates of the National Park Service, setting the stage for a myriad of property rights abuses and land grabs. It is the key to the radical environmental plan to return as much of the United States landmass to wilderness as possible and to deny the use of as much land as possible to the development of new homes, apartments, businesses, and other uses.

The reality of Heritage Areas is a history of ravishing property rights. Heritage Areas are not simply honorary designations. They are vehicles for “sustainable development.” Once a locality receives a “Heritage Area” designation, its zoning laws become subject to the control of the federal government and that control, more often than not, shuns property rights in favor of radical environmentalism.

Federal control over local zoning practices occurs in one of two ways. It can occur directly in a binding contract between state and federal agencies. Or it can occur indirectly with the federal government dispersing funds to environmental agencies or preservation groups who then draw up zoning plans that meet their narrow vision of the world. This second vehicle is the most sinister as it gives the impression that local control is preserved when, in reality, the federal government is just peddling its influence through another party.

Already a bad bill, H.R. 2388 has a propensity to become even worse as it travels through the legislative process. Amendments and revisions can and will be made on the House floor prior to voting and, if history is any indicator, those amendments may be something to fear.

Land Acquisition

Liberal Rep. Nick Rahall (D-WV) is one of the biggest proponents of H.R. 2388. It should be noted that Rep. Rahall presides over the poverty-stricken Coal Heritage Area in West Virginia. A shining example of how Heritage Areas squelch economic development. When H.R. 2388 was being considered for a vote in the House Resources Committee, Rahall proposed an amendment to allow land acquisition authority. Fortunately, his amendment was rejected. However, H.R. 2388 will go through a similar process before the full House of Representatives and there is little doubt that Rahall and his land-grabbing cohorts will lobby to include land acquisition in H.R. 2388.

The Heritage Areas Act is by no means new to the scene. It existed in the form of H.R. 5044 back in 1994 when it passed the House, but later died in the Senate. Back then, Reps. Hefley and Rahall both sponsored an “Early Action” section in the Heritage Areas Act. What exactly are “Early Actions?” Let them tell you in their own words:

Section 106 (4): “EARLY ACTIONS: After designation of an American Heritage Area, but prior to approval of the management plan for that area, the Secretary may provide technical assistance for EARLY ACTIONS that are important to the theme of the area and that protect resources that would be in imminent danger of irreversible damage without such actions.”

So basically, Hefley and Rahall wanted the National Park Service to provide cash and direction to local governments to do their tyrannical dirty work. “Early Actions” provide the bureaucrats in charge with the power to halt development in areas that are merely proposed for Heritage Area designation. Want to build a house on YOUR property? Not so fast! This area could eventually become a Heritage Area, and we think your house would endanger valuable resources. Never mind that it’s your property. Never mind that the Heritage Area doesn’t even officially exist. No house for you.

Economic Development

Supporters of the Heritage Areas Act are desperately trying to impress upon an increasingly gullible public that Heritage Areas are conducive to economic development. That this can be said with a straight face is nothing short of incredible. The enactment of zoning restrictions is hardly a recipe for economic health. In fact, stifling development usually spells misery for local economies and, in these uncertain times, the last thing communities need are federally mandated barriers to economic growth. The hypocrisy of H.R. 2388’s supporters knows some bounds. Even they couldn’t bring themselves to pen the words “economic development” in the actual text of the Heritage Areas Act.

Another aspect of the Heritage Areas Act’s sordid past bears mentioning. The 1994 version of the bill had a provision that allowed Heritage Areas to be designated as United Nations World Heritage Sites at the sole discretion of the Secretary of the Interior.

Section 105 (b) (3) stated that the Interior Secretary shall “consider any American Heritage Area, designated under this or any other Act, for the nomination to the World Heritage List if the Secretary determines that such area meets the qualifications for such nominations.” No hearings, no debate, no nothing.

The Tyranny of Land-Grabbers

When congressional committee hearings were held on H.R. 2388, the bill’s sponsors purposefully shut out property rights groups from voicing their concerns. Both the American Land Rights Association and the Property Rights Foundation of America requested to testify and both were rejected. In fact, during debate on the bill, perennial property rights champion Rep. Richard Pombo (R-CA), offered a commonsense amendment to H.R. 2388 calling for property owners to be notified when their land falls within the boundaries of a Heritage Area. Incredibly, Rep. Hefley and his cohorts voted down this amendment! It seems that they would rather landowners be caught off-guard when the National Park Service comes for their property.

The National Heritage Areas Policy Act is just the latest attempt by the federal government to purchase influence over local communities and their zoning practices. This is not what our Founding Fathers envisioned. They founded our nation on the bedrock of property rights and federalism. That is our heritage. H.R. 2388 seeks to snuff it out.

Tom DeWeese
[email protected]

Tom DeWeese is one of the nation’s leading advocates of individual liberty, free enterprise, private property rights, personal privacy, back-to-basics education and American sovereignty and independence.