The Great National Land Grab
June 9, 2003
American Policy Center
Land grabbers in Congress, led by Rep. Joel Hefley (R-CO), want to
pass federal legislation (H.R. 1427) to create a National Heritage
Areas program. Property rights advocates must be on the alert and
prepared to fight to ensure that such a program never comes into existence.
National Heritage Areas present many dangers to traditional property
rights and local zoning. Here are a few of the more serious implications
and problems associated with an NHA program:
National Heritage Areas are de facto federal zoning. Despite proponents’
claims to the contrary, as federal dollars flow from Washington to
individual NHAs, inevitably, federal strings are attached. One of
these strings is federal zoning mandates. For example, when the Augusta
Canal NHA was undergoing initial approval, the National Park Service
urged the House Resources Committee to withhold federal funds from
Augusta Canal until a commitment was shown by those overseeing the
creation of the NHA to implement stricter zoning laws and even create
a State park. Land use and zoning is an inherent function of local
government. NHAs promote a top-down, federal approach to land use
that would spell disaster for local communities.
National Heritage Areas stifle local initiative and control. When
born of local initiative, planning and money, Heritage Areas are more
apt to have the consensus of the property and business owners within
their boundaries. Indeed, there are many State Heritage Areas that
are totally sustained by local businesses and governments—they operate
free of federal money or intrusion. National Heritage Areas operate
quite differently. It is not necessarily the desire of the local community
to create a NHA in their area, but rather the desire of a special
interest group or a federal agency. Preliminary boundaries are drawn,
locals are inadequately informed of the pending NHA designation, federal
money and assistance is wafted under the noses of local officials,
and the process goes forward, despite what is in the best interest
or desire of the community.
Property owners are not properly notified when their land falls within
the boundaries of a proposed National Heritage Area. It is morally
imperative that landowners be notified any time a federal designation
could affect their property rights in any manner. Yet proponents of
National Heritage Areas refuse to offer this most common courtesy.
This is because they fear opposition to NHA designations and would
rather spring the news on unsuspecting landowners.
National Heritage Areas not only promote federal land acquisition,
but also acquire land themselves. Both the Cane River and Shenandoah
National Battlefields National Heritage Areas are authorized to use
federal funds for land acquisition, and thus, have created national
parks within their boundaries. Others, such as the Rivers of Steel
NHA in Pennsylvania, are openly lobbying for land acquisition and
park creation. Property owners within these NHAs must now contend
with ideologically driven land trusts partnered with federal agencies
hungry to either acquire their land or restrict its use.
A National Heritage Areas program would grow exponentially and become
a massive funding burden to the federal government. A National Heritage
Areas program could not come at a worse time. Once a National Heritage
Area program is established, local government officials and non-governmental
organizations will clamor for more and more federal dollars. As the
program grows out of control, so too will its strain on the federal
budget and its burden on a National Park Service that is already facing
a multi-billion dollar maintenance backlog.
The National Heritage Areas program is an expensive, insidious attempt
by non-governmental organizations and federal agencies to impose land
use controls and zoning mandates on unsuspecting local communities.
It is my view, and the view of others in the property rights community,
that there is zero justification for such a program at the federal
level. The Senate Resources Committee has a golden opportunity to
quash this dangerous program before it spreads like wildfire throughout
the nation, devouring local communities.
Peyton Knight is the Director of Legislative Affairs for the American
Policy Center, a grassroots, activist think tank headquartered in
Warrenton, VA. The Center maintains an Internet site at www.americanpolicy.org