15 Mar National Heritage Areas Legislation Attacked
Washington, DC (March 15, 2005) – In a hearing today before the U.S. Senate National Parks Subcommittee, Peyton Knight, executive director of the American Policy Center charged that, “National Heritage Areas are nothing more than property targeted by environmentalists and the National Park Service for regulation and land acquisition,”
“At present, the Park Service is running a multibillion-dollar deferred maintenance backlog,” said Knight. “It can’t handle its current responsibility. How on Earth does it make sense to give it more?” Knight warned that “extreme fiscal irresponsibility” isn’t the only problem with National Heritage Areas, telling the committee that they “embody a more sinister characteristic” as well.
“Heritage Areas are federal land use mandates foisted upon local communities,” Knight said. “Heritage Areas have boundaries, and those boundaries have consequences for property owners unfortunate enough to reside within them.”
Knight explained that, when an area becomes a National Heritage Area, the Park Service partners with an environmental special interest group to “restore, preserve, and manage anything and everything that is naturally, culturally, historically, and recreationally significant to the Heritage Area.” That is exactly what legislation for Heritage Areas states. “This sweeping mandate ensures that every square inch of a Heritage Area is a prime target for regulation or acquisition — private property included.”
Responding to proponents’ claims that Heritage Areas are only temporary grants, Knight pointed out that few Heritage Areas, if any, have ever met their funding sunsets. “In fact,” he said, “there is a bill before this very Congress (H.R. 888) that would extend the life of nine existing Heritage Areas until the year 2027, and double their funding.”
“Heritage Areas are permanent units of the National Park Service from their moment of inception,” said Knight, “They are the 40-year-old child still living in mommy and daddy’s basement.”
Under consideration by the subcommittee are four pieces of legislation: S. 175, the “Bleeding Kansas and Enduring Struggle for Freedom National Heritage Area” in Kansas; S.322, the “Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership,” covering parts of Vermont and New York; S.429, the “Upper Housatonic Valley National Heritage Area,” covering parts of Connecticut and Massachusetts; and S. 323, a bill to designate the “French Colonial Heritage Area” in Missouri as a unit of the National Park System.
“Zoning and land use policies are local decisions to be made by locally elected officials who are directly accountable to the citizens they represent,” Knight told the subcommittee. “National Heritage Areas corrupt this inherently local procedure by adding federal dollars, federal oversight, and federal mandates to the mix.”
Knight concluded, “The real beneficiaries of National Heritage Areas 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 on property rights.”