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Friday, March 09, 2007

Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act Adopted by House Resources Committee Despite Unresolved Problems

A report from Peyton Knight:
After much debate and unresolved conflict, Rep. Frank Wolf's (R-VA) Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act squeaked through the House Resources Committee on a mostly party-line voice vote Wednesday.

It was the Democrats who rammed the controversial bill through the committee, as many of Wolf's fellow Republicans voted against the bill after attempts to amend some of the more egregious portions of the legislation failed.

No doubt, this is a blow to those who believe in private property rights and commonsense limited government.

On the brighter side, this was the first time the negative aspects (namely: lost property rights, pork-barrel spending, and federal overreach) of a National Heritage Area proposal were contentiously debated prior to passage.

The Act also passed in spite of the fact that Congressman Roscoe Bartlett (R-MD) had introduced a compromise bill designed to better protect the property rights of citizens in the path of Wolf's Heritage Area. Rep. Bartlett's constituents are in this path.

Rather than give Congressman Bartlett's legislation its due consideration, the Democrat majority (at the strong urging of Wolf) opted to ignore the concerns of Congressman Bartlett and many others.

Here are our first-hand notes from yesterday's action in the House Resources Committee:
* Incredibly, the Democrats, with Wolf's blessing, succeeded in stripping out the meager property rights protections present in the Act. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-NM) offered an amendment to remove the entire "property rights" section of the Wolf bill, announcing to the committee that he had Wolf's support to do so. Grijalva argued that the property rights protections present in the bill might create "management difficulties for the Heritage Area." In other words, removing property rights protections will make it much easier for Wolf's preservation lobbyists and the National Park Service to accomplish their goal of restricting land use without having to be reminded of the Constitutional rights of property owners.

So what does this mean? Was the property rights section of the bill, which was meager to begin with, nothing more than a bait and switch tool for Wolf? Wolf championed the property rights section when campaigning for the bill, but when it came time for a vote, he apparently collaborated with the Democrats to have it stripped out. Republicans on the committee firmly objected to the amendment removing the property rights protections, but it the Democrats adopted it on a party-line voice vote.

* Representative Jeff Flake (R-AZ) offered a good, commonsense amendment to the bill that failed. His amendment would have barred any federal tax dollars received by special interest groups under the Act from being used to lobby state, local or federal government officials. Nothing groundbreaking here. Just common sense good governance. But not to Wolf and the Democrats. Congressman Wolf has consistently resisted this modest improvement, and the Democrats didn't like it, either. The amendment was voted down 22-15 along strict party lines.

Rep. Flake also pointed out that the main group lobbying for Wolf's bill (the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership) received a one million-dollar earmark in the 2005 Transportation Bill - before the group was even incorporated. He pointed out the ethical peculiarity of a group receiving a federal earmark, and then spending that earmark lobbying for more federal earmarks. Flake quipped that perhaps Congress should have been paying more attention to this seemingly illegal situation instead of the infamous "Bridge to Nowhere."

For good measure, Rep. Flake also pointed out the absurdity of bestowing millions of federal tax dollars on an organization that already, according to the group itself, has millions in the bank and is financially solvent.

* Representative Steve Pearce offered an amendment that would have simply required that property owners within the boundaries of Rep. Wolf's proposed National Heritage Area receive written notification, via a letter delivered by U.S. Postal Service, of the pending designation. Rep. Pearce argued that this is a common courtesy. Rather than draw a federal boundary around someone's land without telling them about it, as the Wolf bill would do, the Pearce amendment would have required the so-called Heritage Area "management entity" (which consists of the National Park Service and preservation interest groups) to give folks a head’s up.

Again, this is a common sense improvement that Rep. Wolf has resisted since day one. And the Democrats on the Resources Committee argued against it as well. Specifically, they argued that notifying the people who would be affected by the Wolf bill would be too cumbersome and inconvenient for the management entity. The Pearce amendment was also voted down by the Democrats on a strict party line vote, 22-15.

* Representative Rob Bishop (R-UT) made several excellent points, particularly regarding a bill that was taken up prior to the Wolf Heritage Area that would create the Steel Industry National Historic Site in Pennsylvania. Rep. Bishop pointed out:
At a time when the National Park Service is trying to reduce the maintenance backlog at existing park units, I question the responsibility of further increasing their burden by creating yet another National Park.

The committee should also be aware that this site is within the boundaries of the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area. We are often told that we should support heritage areas because they are preferable to designating National Parks. Today we can clearly see that this is not the case. In fact, it would appear that the designation of a heritage area is now the first step to designating another National Park.
In fact, the Rivers of Steel National Heritage Area "management entity" has lobbied not only for this Historic Site, but also the creation of a separate National Park. Thus, here we have a federal agency (the National Park Service) funding a group of activists to lobby for increased programming for the agency.

Rep. Bishop also argued that it "would be an irresponsible precedent" to establish the Wolf Heritage Area "over the objection of a Member of Congress [Rep. Bartlett] whose district is to be included in the heritage area." Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-WV) was unmoved.

* Rep. John Duncan (R-TN) asked an excellent question. After pointing out that every square inch of land in the United States can be considered historically significant in some manner or another, he asked: Where does this National Heritage Area craze end?
Indeed, are we going to cover the entire United States of America with National Heritage Areas?
To contact author Peyton Knight directly,
write him at [email protected]

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Posted by Amy Ridenour at 5:19 PM

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