Losing our heritage, our land

Published September 1, 2002

The National Heritage Areas Act (HR 2388), sponsored by Reps. Joel Hefley (R-Colorado) and Nick Rahall (D-West Virginia), would do for land grabs what the assembly line did for automobiles. Private property would go the way of the horse and buggy.

The Heritage Areas Act proposes to extend federal control over local land use in exchange for federal grant money to local communities. Politicians see it as a pork barrel spending program to benefit their districts. However, with the federal money comes federal land use requirements, duplicity, and land seizure, as is happening already in several counties in West Virginia Heritage Areas.

Landowners are not notified when their property comes within the boundaries of a Heritage Area. Property owners simply find out when they try to get a road fixed, install a swimming pool, re-gravel their driveway, or repair their fences.

HR 2388 is touted as a program helping local communities encourage economic development and tourism. However, communities are in for a rude surprise, because the words “economic development” and “tourism” never appear in the Heritage Areas Act.

Consider Hinton, West Virginia

For the benefit of a “National Heritage Area,” the National Park Service hides its intentions from local landowners, uses them to gain funding, and then dumps them when it no longer needs them. Residents of Hinton, West Virginia learned that the hard way.

The people of Hinton wanted funds to repair a local road. They lobbied their legislators for several years, and finally the federal funding came through.

At that point, the National Park Service stepped in. Because the local road was in a Heritage Area, Park Service officials announced, the money would be used to create a Scenic Parkway. The Scenic Parkway called for condemning dozens of properties, forcing people out of their homes … the very same people who lobbied for the road repairs in the first place.

HR 2388 would create more “Heritage Areas” controlled by the National Park Service–the same federal government agency that allows forest fires to run wild, condemns private property whenever possible, and identifies huge tracts as endangered species habitat so it can eliminate commercial and recreational use of public lands, prohibiting everything from off-road vehicles to mining and logging.

The National Park Service also has a five billion dollar maintenance backlog. It is behind on everything from patching potholes in roads to fixing overflowing sewer systems fouling the rivers. It plainly cannot handle the empire it already controls … yet wants more.

HR 2388 is federal land-use zoning at its worst. It establishes a program to be run by the notoriously anti-property-owner Park Service, which is permitted under the measure to take actions without informing landowners … who will discover what’s happened only after it’s too late for them to respond. Though touted as a boon for local economic development and tourism, it threatens far more economic harm than good.

The Heritage Areas Act was passed by the House Resources Committee in May 2002. It will likely be presented for a vote before the entire House, and then the Senate, later this year. There is no time to lose in letting your Congressmen know you oppose it.

Tom DeWeese is publisher/editor of The DeWeese Report and president of the American Policy Center in Warrenton, Virginia. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org.

For more information

More on the Heritage Areas controversy in Hinton, West Virginia can be found on the Internet at http://www.newriverfriends.org.

More information on HR 2388 is available at the Thomas Web site at http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d107:h.r.02388:.