Statement of Peyton Knight Legislative Director American Policy Center

Read before the Subcommittee on National Parks of the Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, concerning oversight, designation and management of National Heritage Areas and the impact of National Heritage Areas on private lands and communities.

March 13, 2003

Mr. Chairman and members of the subcommittee, thank you for the opportunity to appear before you today on the behalf of property rights advocates across the country who are concerned with the impact of National Heritage Areas on land use, private property rights and local communities.

One of the biggest fears that both residential and commercial property owners have about Heritage Areas is that they will effectively lead to restrictive federal zoning and land-use planning. Why do they fear this? Because funding and technical assistance for Heritage Areas are currently administered through the National Park Service—an agency that, unfortunately, has become synonymous with lost property rights.

Indeed, section 6.1.6 of the management plan for the National Coal Heritage Area in West Virginia, a management plan that was created with funding and technical assistance provided by the Park Service, states:

“Southern West Virginia counties, like rural areas across the United States, lack land-use controls completely or else have controls that are weak or ineffective. The visual landscape that results is cluttered and frequently unattractive.”

This, of course, is a blatant move towards increased restrictions on development and stringent zoning controls. Furthermore, this language of restricted land-use is not unique to the National Coal Heritage Area. Nearly every Heritage Area has a management plan or statement of purpose that calls for restrictive zoning regulations, under the auspices of more environmental protection, more open space and more historic preservation. This typically results in more infringements upon the property rights of landowners located within the boundaries of Heritage Areas.

Now, proponents of National Heritage Areas have claimed that the Park Service merely provides technical assistance and innocently serves as a conduit by which funds are transferred from the federal government to the citizen planning boards and special interest groups entrusted with crafting the blueprints governing Heritage Areas. However, such an assertion is highly dubious, because if it were true, it may mark the first time in the history of federal grant-making, where the funding agency refused to get intimately involved in the program it was funding. It is just not realistic.

This trend was born out when the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area in Georgia was in its developmental stages in 1994. The National Park Service refused to accept the management plan put forth by Augusta Canal Authority until zoning regulations were made stricter.

Private property rights advocates are also worried that National Heritage Areas will effectively become part of the National Parks program, despite attempts by proponents to assuage these fears. Unfortunately, these fears are well founded.

The Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area, located in southwestern Pennsylvania, states boldly on its website:

“Rivers of Steel is spearheading a drive to create a national park on 38 acres of original mill site…Bills have been introduced before the U.S. Congress to make this urban national park a reality.”

Thus, here is an example of a National Heritage Area, funded and guided by the National Park Service, taking the initiative in lobbying Congress for land acquisition and the creation of yet another National Park. It hardly appears that Heritage Areas and National Parks are strictly dichotomous. It is also worthwhile to note that this is happening at a time when funding for federal land acquisition is becoming more and more scarce.

If the Heritage Areas program is allowed to proliferate, experience shows that it will become not only a funding albatross, as more and more interest groups gather around the federal trough, but also a program that quashes property rights and local economies through restrictive federal zoning practices. The real beneficiaries of a National Heritage Areas program are conservation groups, preservation societies, land trusts and the National Park Service—essentially, organizations that are in constant pursuit of federal dollars, land acquisition and restrictions to development.

Again, Mr. Chairman, thank you for inviting me to testify on this very important issue. I would be happy to answer any questions that you, or other members of the subcommittee, may have.

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.