National Heritage Areas Are Federal Power Grab, Pork Scheme: Coalition

Published October 1, 2007

Proposed National Heritage Areas threaten property rights throughout the United States, as documented by David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research, in a congressional letter he has drafted.

The U.S. Senate Committee on Energy and Natural Resources has approved 10 National Heritage Area bills this year. National Heritage Areas give the federal government a mechanism for controlling local land-use decisions while creating another avenue for politicians to funnel millions of dollars in pork home to their districts.

Most Americans aren’t aware of the problem. The coalition letter is part of an effort to educate the public and policymakers about this important policy issue. Ridenour has provided the following draft letter for concerned citizens to sign or send to their Congressmen.

Dear Member of Congress:

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Kelo v. City of New London ignited a national outcry against government abuse of property rights. The “bridge to nowhere” and other wasteful programs triggered angry protests against the practice of earmarking.

National Heritage Areas are the Kelo decision and earmarks rolled into one.

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.

As a March 2004 Government Accountability Office report on National Heritage Areas states: “[National Heritage Areas] encourage local governments to implement land use policies that are consistent with the heritage areas’ plans, which may allow the heritage areas to indirectly influence zoning and land use planning in ways that could restrict owners’ use of their property.”

The proposed “Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act” provides a good case study on how such designations can be self-perpetuating federal pork and influence projects.

The chief lobbying organization for this National Heritage Area, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership, received a $1 million earmark in the 2005 federal transportation bill at the behest of Members of Congress sponsoring legislation to establish this heritage area–an earmark that was granted before the organization was even incorporated. A million-dollar earmark thus was issued to help create a steady stream of future pork, at the expense of the rights of local landowners.

We believe zoning and land use policies are best left to local officials, who are directly accountable to the citizens they represent. National Heritage Areas corrupt the principle of representative government and this inherently local function by giving unelected, unaccountable special interests the authority to develop land management plans and federal money with which to finance their efforts.

Once established, National Heritage Areas become permanent units of the National Park Service, and as such, permanent drains on an agency that currently suffers a multi-billion-dollar maintenance crisis. According to the GAO, “sunset provisions have not been effective in limiting federal funding [for National Heritage Areas]: since 1984, five areas that reached their sunset dates received funding reauthorization from the Congress.”

Supporters of new National Heritage Areas have the public will precisely backward: Americans want stronger property rights protections and less pork-barrel spending–not more earmarks to programs that harm property rights.

Please do not support the creation of additional National Heritage Areas or federal funding for Heritage Area management entities, support groups, or groups that lobby for or advocate the creation of new Heritage Areas.