New National Heritage Areas Curb Real Economic Growth, Say Critics

Monisha Bansal | Staff Writer | Tuesday, October 23, 2007

New National Heritage Areas Curb Real Economic Growth, Say Critics

( - The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a measure that would create six new National Heritage Areas in the United States, but some conservatives are concerned that the legislation will be costly to taxpayers and property owners.

The Celebrating America's Heritage Act would establish six national heritage areas (NHAs), which are non-federal lands and communities managed privately in conjunction with the National Park Service. One critic, the National Center for Public Policy Research, calls the bill a step towards federal zoning.

According to the Congressional Budget Office, "For each of the new areas, the bill would authorize the appropriation of $1 million annually, up to $15 million over 15 years. In addition, the bill would increase the ceiling on authorizations of appropriations for nine existing NHAs."

The six new projects include the Journey Through Hallowed Ground NHA in Maryland and Virginia; Niagara Falls NHA in New York; Muscle Shoals NHA in Alabama; Freedom's Way NHA in Massachusetts and New Hampshire; Abraham Lincoln NHA in Illinois; and Santa Cruz Valley NHA in Arizona.

"This bill would reward special interest groups with special earmarks and grants at the expense of fiscal responsibility and private property rights protections," Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs at the National Center for Public Policy Research, told Cybercast News Service.

"The bill actually funds preservationist interest groups in select members' districts and directs them to spend federal money, enforcing the land-use management plan that would restrict the rights of private property owners in those areas," he added.

But Dan Scandling, a spokesman for Rep. Frank Wolf (R-Va.) -- a strong supporter of the bill and the Journey Through Hallowed Ground area that runs through his district -- said, "Nowhere in the bill does it say that anybody's property rights will be impacted." He added that "the entire state of Tennessee is a heritage area."

Knight said the bill would be a "further hindrance" on the National Park Service budget. The Park Service has had a "multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog crisis" for over a decade, and "this is going to be a drain on the Park Service budget," Knight said.

"They can't take care of the properties they have now," he said, "yet they keep on biting off more than they can chew."

Scandling, however, told Cybercast News Service that the new NHAs will be beneficial.

"It helps promote these areas and makes them a tourist destination," he said. "It helps this whole area come together and this whole corridor promote itself as a tourist destination."

"There is just so much history along the corridor that this taps into and it helps as a place to promote it," he added, referring to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground NHA, which includes Civil War battlefields and other historic places.

One of the stated goals of the bill is to spur economic growth. But Knight said the scope will be limited.

"In reality, it would restrict economic growth to only that type that is approved by the special interest groups that will be overseeing the areas," he said. "That will typically be geared more towards the tourism economy, which in most instances won't be self-sustaining."

"Those groups will likely ... restrict real economic growth while promoting a tourism economy, which isn't likely to produce necessary jobs or really benefit local economies," he said.

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