By Norman L. Kincaide, Ph.D.
Colorado - What if you discovered there was an organization working to undermine your private property rights, subvert your local sovereignty and compromise the sanctity and integrity of your locally elected officials through the imposition of a National Heritage Area (NHA) in the region where you live? What if your local jurisdictions financed this organization for many years through block grants and lodging taxes? What if you discovered this was a top-down scheme from the state tourism office, the National Park Service (NPS) and other governmental and nongovernmental entities?
La Junta, CO 59th Annual Livestock Sale - Left to right: Kerry Froese, Elisabeth Erickson-Noe of Bent County, CO, Barb Leininger and Zane Leininger, DVM, of Otero County, CO
How would you feel if this organization and the NPS attempted to by-pass the public to impose a NHA over a whole region of your state? How would you feel if this organization, in conjunction with the NPS, had a feasibility study already underway before most of the people in the region knew about it?
What would you think of an organization that published a schedule of Community Information meetings one day (March 12, 2014) and then cancelled them the next day (March 13, 2014) because of staffing changes, logistical conflicts, unavoidable circumstances, and personal commitments, then in an email from a U.S. Senator’s representative stated that the organization was ready to meet with elected officials about the feasibility study, (March 13, 2014) the same day the Community Meetings were cancelled?
There are a lot of angry farmers, ranchers, property owners, businesses and residents in Southeast Colorado who discovered this had been taking place without their knowledge for several years. A group called Canyons & Plains Sustainability Partnership, in conjunction with the NPS and the Nature Conservancy, had been preparing to advance Canyons & Plains to management entity status as soon as Canyons and Plains National Heritage Area is designated. Canyons and Plains (originally called, Southeast Colorado Regional Heritage Task Force) was founded in 2003, the NPS being one of the founding members.
Kim, Colorado meeting March 21, 2014
The NHA proposal was first revealed on February 14, 2013 at a Canyons & Plains regional meeting and publicly announced in the La Junta Tribune-Democrat, November 25, 2013. Canyons & Plains Sustainability Partnerships’ goals were “for cooperative planning to drive overall efforts in the region; to energize rural communities by a rich overlay of tourism and business infrastructure; and to promote conservation by private landowners to preserve local control of land and water resources, protect future prosperity, and create one of the largest protected landscapes of its kind in the country.” The operative phrase is “create one of the largest protected landscapes of its kind in the country.” Protected landscapes have to do with land use policy. This proposal has since been vigorously challenged by residents led by rancher, Kimmi Lewis of Kim, CO, who formed a group called: Southeast Colorado Private Property Rights Council, which is dedicated to defeating this NHA.
A National Heritage Area is conferred by act of Congress, spans both public and private land, with a management entity advised by the National Park Service along NPS mission guidelines of comprehensive conservation, preservation, and compatible economic development. The management plan must be approved by the Secretary of the Interior.
NHA management entities are not evaluated by the residents for whom the area was created, but rather by the Secretary of the Interior, who then reports and makes recommendations concerning the NPS’s continuing role with respect to the NHA. The Secretary also identifies critical components for sustainability. Furthermore, the sunset provision has been increased to 25 years (currently sunset provisions are from 10-15 years) in H.R. 445, National Heritage Area Act of 2013, pending in the January 6, 2014 Session of Congress.
Kimmi Lewis - Kim, Colorado meeting March 21, 2014
NHAs pose a threat to private property rights through the exercise of restrictive zoning, called regulatory takings without compensation, which may severely limit the extent that private property owners can develop or use their property. Furthermore, NHAs rarely, if ever, become financially independent of the federal government. As stated in the NHA Summer 2012 Newsletter, “While the designation of a National Heritage Area is permanent, the congressional authorization to receive funding is not permanent.” The following NHAs were to sunset in 2012: Augusta Canal, Delaware and Lehigh, Essex, Hudson River Valley, John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley, Lackawanna, National Coal, Ohio and Erie, Rivers of Steel, Silos and Smokestacks, South Carolina, and Tennessee Civil War National Heritage Areas.” The appropriations bill signed into law by President Obama on January 17, 2014, extended the sunset deadlines for these 12 heritage areas from 2013 to 2015.
NHAs burden the local populace with another layer of federal interference. The citizens of Yuma, Arizona spent three years petitioning Congress to have their NHA reduced in size because it adversely impacted private property. Yuma Crossing NHA was designated in 2000, boundary revised, 2006 from 22 square miles down to 4 square miles within the town of Yuma.
“When the Yuma Crossing Heritage Area was authorized in 2000, the public in Yuma County did not understand the scope of the project and was surprised by the size of the designation. Citizens originally believed that the heritage area would focus mainly around the historic districts and the wetlands. Furthermore, many property owners were not aware that they were also included in the new designation.
Concerns were raised by citizens about the size of the designation and the potential for additional Federal oversight. The fear of adverse impacts on private property rights were realized when local government agencies began to use the immense heritage area boundary to determine zoning restrictions. In an effort to alleviate the property rights concerns and better focus the available funds on the historic areas, H.R. 326 adjusts the boundaries to include only those areas where there is greater consensus of perceived public support.”
Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor, which received federal funding for 25 years and was to sun set in 2012, is being considered for national park status. Senate Bill 371 and H.R. 706, currently pending in Congress, seek to establish the Blackstone River Valley National Historical Park in Rhode Island and Massachusetts as a unit of the National Park System. The Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor was established in 1986, initially located within 19 municipalities, expanded in 1996 to encompass all or part of 24 communities from Worcester, Massachusetts, to Providence, Rhode Island, which contains nearly 600,000 people, covering 400,000 acres of the Blackstone River Valley. The park would encompass much of the area within the Corridor in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts, including the Blackstone River and its tributaries; the Blackstone Canal; historic districts of Old Slater Mill in Pawtucket; the villages of Slatersville and Ashton, Rhode Island; and Whitinsville and Hopedale in Massachusetts.
Most residents of Southeast Colorado are only now becoming aware of the NHA designation. NGOs like Canyons & Plains have to get local leaders and elected officials to “buy into” their vision for the targeted region without having to sell it in the public arena. Could it be that federal employees are so insecure about the questionable integrity of a program or its process that they have to use subterfuge to accomplish its ends? If federal government employees (NPS) and their Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) cannot be honest and straight forward with the public in promoting government programs, then they might as well just call them scams. Preservation groups like Colorado Preservation, Inc. gain access to private property for the purpose of populating a data base of historic assets, which are then used for the underpinnings of a NHA feasibility study, about which the property owner is never advised. If the preservation group cannot gain access to private property they conduct a reconnaissance survey from a public road.
Land use policy and economic development properly reside with county commissioners, local planning boards and city councils, not with NGOs, the NPS, or the Secretary of the Interior. Unelected board members of a NHA management entity are not accountable to the electorate, just as the NPS and Secretary of the Interior are not accountable to local residents or their elected officials. NGOs like Canyons & Plains covet managerial authority over a region to impose their particular vision upon an unsuspecting populace They also covet a stream of federal appropriations and matching public and private funds to make themselves sustainable on the backs of the American taxpayer and the local tax base.
The hard working residents of Southeast Colorado have not been informed about, consulted with, or even advised of, what is transpiring with this proposal and the feasibility study - not at all treating them with the courtesy and respect they’re due.
Farmers, ranchers and their families came and went at the La Junta Livestock Commission's 59th Anniversary Sale on Wednesday, March 26, 2014. They rotated in and out of the sale ring and filled the restaurant from breakfast time to afternoon until early evening. Cattle were bought and sold. Arkansas Valley Cattle Women manned the complementary doughnut and coffee table. These good people, who work the land and travel to Winter Livestock on Tuesday and La Junta Livestock on Wednesday, every week, had no idea that people who never worked the land, never invested in a crop or went through calving season, had plans for Southeast Colorado that these farmers and ranchers were never to know about. If the residents of Southeast Colorado didn’t know about the NHA proposal and feasibility study will they even be notified that they will be living in a national park in 25 years?