STOP National Heritage Areas! Or Death by a thousand cuts.

When I first learned of a plan to create a National Heritage Area (NHA) in NW Florida, I learned it would supposedly create economic development through historic and cultural tourism and would showcase our historic sites. That didn’t sound concerning.  Then I discovered that it would encompass 14 counties, be funded through your hard earned tax dollars, be operated by a non-elected, non-government entity and be associated with the National Park Service.  That is when alarm bells went off.

National Heritage Areas are pork-barrel programs with the very real potential of impacting the private property rights of those landowners located within the NHA boundaries.

Most people that I’ve talked to know nothing about National Heritage Areas, or have even heard of a NHA.  That is including people who live in existing NHAs

WHAT ARE NATIONAL HERITAGE AREAS?

According to the National Park Service (NPS), “National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape….NPS partners with, provides technical assistance, and distributes matching federal funds from Congress to NHA entities. NPS does not assume ownership of land inside heritage areas or impose land use controls” National Park Service website.

The first NHA was established in 1984. There are currently 55 National Heritage Areas scattered throughout the country.  Each NHA receives up to $700,000 per NHA per year of your hard earned federal tax dollars via the National Park Service.  Their enabling legislation claims there is a “sunset” where they are self sustaining financially and do not require your taxpayer dollars.

So far, none of the 55 NHAs have become self-sustaining and instead are a perpetual drain on the federal budget, with the older NHAs receiving reauthorization for more years-worth of our tax dollars.  Watch the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands testimony of June 15, 2021.  See the Congressmen as well as the Dept. of the Interior/National Park Service representative and others talk of a looming “crisis” where 30 of the 55 NHAs sunset on 9/30/2021 and they all desperately need re-authorization into the future to obtain more of your taxpayer dollars.  They are supposed to be self sustaining but they are NOT.

Add to that the fact that the National Park Service is over $18 Billion (with a B!) behind in repairs and maintenance of the park system.  The alliance of NHAs has a chart on their web site bemoaning that the federal government has only provided them with 33% of the promised funding.  So, they promise communities money, but the NHA doesn’t receive it, so what makes you think the community gets it?

In the testimony, they said, “we are a great bargain!  You gave us $20 million last year and we earned over $80 million in matching funds.”  We are to believe they are bringing in more money than Congress is giving them yet they want more of your tax money.  Something does not add up. If that is true, they are self sustaining and do not need federal – meaning your wallet – support.

Currently before the 117th Congress is HR1316/S 1942, a bill to standardize National Heritage Areas and create the National Heritage Areas System that will now include National Trails, National Rivers and all the other cats and dog programs under the NPS.   This will expand this program and, of course, require more of your federal tax dollars.

We must urge Representatives Rutherford, Cammack, Waltz, Diaz-Balart, Bilirakis, Steube, Salazar, Scott, Mast, Gaetz and Dunn as well Senators Scott and Rubio to vote NO on  HR1316/S1942 and any other NHA legislation.  It is up to us to tell them to reject National Heritage Areas.

The Great Setup!

Typically, NHA enabling documents contain language that, according to proponents, is designed to protect private property rights by allowing property owners to refrain from participating in any planned project or activity within the heritage areas, not requiring any owner to permit public access to property and not altering any existing land use regulation, approved land use plan, or other regulatory authority.

In practice however, local government officials can be and are pressured by the NHA management entity to pass zoning laws and regulations not otherwise needed in order to support the NHA management plan. This is known as regulatory taking.  In regulatory taking, you still own the property and pay taxes on it, but you aren’t reimbursed for any loss of use or value through restrictive zoning and ordinances passed by local and county governments to support the NHA management plan.

“National heritage areas are preservation zones where land use and property rights can be restricted. They give the National Park Service and preservation interest groups (many with histories of hostility toward property rights) substantial influence by giving them the authority to create land use “management plans” and then the authority to disburse federal money to local governments to promote their plans.” National Center for Public Policy Research, 2007 letter sent to congressional leaders and pertinent committee members.

So, whether by design or not, NHAs are the Great Setup for government to impose new infringements on your personal property rights.

NHA NEGATIVE IMPACTS

So you may wonder if and where negative impacts have occurred in conjunction with National Heritage Areas. If you ask the National Park Service they will tell you there have been no negative impacts or complaints.  But it’s not true. Here are just a few of the examples I’ve found.

In their own words!

  1. If you don’t think the Interior Dept and NPS consider the NHA under their control consider this from the National Environmental Policy Act Guide for National Heritage Area Management Plans: Section 2 Environmental Compliance:

“Since NHA management plans are approved by the Secretary of the Interior, the approval is considered a Federal action and, therefore, federal environmental laws including NEPA and other laws, such as Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA) and Section 7 of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), must be followed.”

  1. The official management plan for the Blackstone River National Heritage Corridor, prepared by the Center for Rural Massachusetts, University of Massachusetts, Amhearst, declares: “At some point, a sufficient level of concern is reached along with a growing concern that voluntary, non-regulatory measures are themselves insufficient to ensure that environmental, cultural and historic resources are adequately protected against indiscriminate and inappropriate development.”
  2. “As a first step, each of the jurisdictions within the Heritage Area that has not already done so will need to recognize the JTHG National Heritage Area and related parks, trails and sites in its comprehensive plan and identify its resources and qualities as a priority for conservation and preservation in the county. The JTHG Partnership will work to ensure that all counties participate in NHA initiatives and recognize the NHA in their plans.” Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Management Plan, July 2012

Examples of NHA impact

“In Wheeling, the legislature designated the downtown area as a National Heritage Area in October 2000 when it passed the Wheeling National Heritage Act (WNHAA). This act created the Wheeling National Heritage Area Corporation (WNHAC) to manage and redevelop the area. In 2002, The WHNAC proposed to convert 90 percent of downtown Wheeling into a ‘Victorian-themed outlet mall.’ This plan would have condemned properties and transferred them from their present owners to private retail businesses chosen by City officials (Berliner 2003). Fortunately, the West Virginia Supreme Court ruled the financing of the plan unconstitutional in May 2003.” Unleashing Capitalism: Why Prosperity Stops at the West Virginia Border and How to Fix It, Russell S. Sobel, Ph.D. Editor, Chapter 7, Edward J. López, Carrie B. Kerekes, George D. Johnson.

“When Augusta Canal NHA was undergoing initial approval, the National Park Service urged the House Resources Committee to withhold federal funds from Augusta Canal until a commitment was shown by those overseeing the creation of the NHA to implement stricter zoning laws and even create a state park.” Great National Land Grab, Peyton Knight, 2003

(Former) Deputy Director of the National Park Service, Donald Murphy, testified before the Senate Subcommittee on National Parks that one of the things the Park Service does when administering National Heritage Areas is survey land that would be suitable for future National Parks or National Park expansions. National Heritage Areas, The Land Grab Continues, Tom DeWeese, October 2012

“My county literally tried to ban cattle fencing in the middle of cowboy country. They zoned everything outside of the city as a park, at the same time they tried to join an existing NHA neighboring us.”   Angel Cushing, via email, 8/19/2021, Lyon County, KS.

Folks, we have a National Property Rights Crisis. Here is a summary of reasons to be very concerned about NHAs:

  1. CONCERNS ABOUT NATIONAL HERITAGE AREAS INFLUENCE ON PRIVATE PROPERTY RIGHTS NHA claim they protect private property rights.  History has shown that local government officials are pressured by the NHA management entity to pass zoning laws and regulations not otherwise needed in order to support the NHA management plan. Private property owners can lose the right to use and enjoy their properties as they see fit.  This often results in a loss of value.
  2. LACK OF TRANSPARENCY NHAs are often created without citizens knowledge and certainly not by public vote.  NHA boundaries are created without the public’s consent. No notification is given to landowners of the creation of the NHA or of NHA management entity actions.
  • NO PUBLIC ACCOUNTABILITY A private group or organization will manage the NHA. They not accountable to the public for their management actions. They are not elected and therefore, if you don’t like what they do, you can’t vote them out.  You cannot submit a Freedom of Information Act Request to find out what they are doing.
  1. MORE GOVERNMENT BUREAUCRACY The National Park Service oversight for the NHA adds another layer of government bureaucracy.
  2. SOLUTION LOOKING FOR A PROBLEM Local, state and federal regulations and programs, grants and private nonprofits already exist to promote the economy and preserve history and heritage.  NHAs duplicate those efforts.
  3. CONTINUOUS DRAIN ON TAXPAYERS None of the National Heritage Areas in existence have become self-sufficient and are chronically dependent upon additional federal funding at taxpayer expense.  30 of the 55 are begging Congress for reauthorization before their free taxpayer money runs out 9/30/2021. 
  • FIX OUR NATIONAL PARKS FIRST National Heritage Areas funnel resources away from the National Park Service’s main mission of taking care of already existing national parks. NPS money is better spent toward maintenance and repair backlogs of over $18 BILLION according to the website Smart Asset. 
  • NHA—THE ANTITHESIS OF FREE MARKET, LOCAL INITIATIVE AND CONTROL The initial push for a NHA is fueled by the desires of a special interest group or groups or a federal agency. It is sold as a community benefit to facilitate “economic development” but the NHA’s “economic development” is choosing and promoting businesses that fit their management plan.

What can we do to stop National Heritage Areas?

Here is my bottom line:  In my opinion, I do not trust the Congress or the NPS to operate this program in a manner that protects our private property rights in the long term.  We have a National Property Rights Crisis.  I don’t want any more National Heritage Areas.

NHAs are established via a federal law.  Typically, one or more US House Members and one or more US Senators in the Proposed NHA will sponsor bills creating a NHA.  If passed, it goes to the President where it is signed into law.  The key is to stop NHA legislation before it reaches Congress.  We must convince House Members and Senators that there is widespread public opposition to any NHA.  We must not only convince them not to sponsor a bill but to reject co-sponsoring or voting for any NHA bill.  Right now, there are efforts in Florida to create the Nation’s Oldest Port NHA in the area around St Augustine.  Congressman Rutherford of Jacksonville has introduced H.R. 2107, the Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act.  Co-Sponsors (Rs): Cammack, Waltz, Diaz-Balart, Bilirakis, Steube, Salazar, Scott, Mast, Gaetz, Dunn.  Tell them all to vote NO on any bill authorizing or funding a National Heritage Area.

Sign our “Stop FL Panhandle Maritime National Heritage Area” petition.  (This site hosts multiple petitions so please make sure to find ours) Visit:  https://www.petitions.net/stop_panhandle_nha

Visit our web site:  www.StopNHA.com    and Facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/StopNHA

Don’t underestimate word of mouth.  Talk to everyone you know about this important topic.  They can contact us via the facebook page to arrange meetings with interested citizens.  Have them demand Congressmen oppose this.

Contact Information for US House Members from Florida and US Senators from Florida

Their Phone:

  • Senator Rick Scott: C. 202 224-5274
  • Senator Marco Rubio: C. 202 224-3041
  • Representative Matt Gaetz (FL CD 1): C. 202 225 4136;
  • Representative Neal Dunn (FL CD 2): D.C. 202-225-5235
  • Representative Kat Cammack (FL CD 3): D.C. 202 225-5744
  • Representative John Rutherford (FL CD 5): C.   202-225-2501
  • Representative Michael G. Waltz (FL CD 6): D.C. 202 225-2706

Their Email:

Their Twitter:

Their Facebook: 

  • Senator Rick Scott: https://www.facebook.com/RickScottSenOffice
  • Senator Marco Rubio: https://www.facebook.com/SenatorMarcoRubio
  • Representative Matt Gaetz (FL CD 1): https://www.facebook.com/CongressmanMattGaetz
  • Representative Neal Dunn (FL CD 2): https://www.facebook.com/DrNealDunnFL2
  • Representative Kat Cammack (FL CD 3): https://www.facebook.com/RepKatCammack
  • Representative John Rutherford (FL CD 5): https://www.facebook.com/RepRutherfordFL
  • Representative Michael G. Waltz (FL CD 6): https://www.facebook.com/MichaelWaltzForCongress  or https://www.facebook.com/michael.waltz.18

©Lane Watkins. All rights reserved.

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