No MSG, Smart Resistance Why it is wise to reject a National Heritage Area by Cindy Alia
This article was written in the past, however, the issues addressed still apply today, in fact more so as we have witnessed little change in the tactics and financial woes of the NPS.
“What is a National Heritage Area?” Good question indeed and one that is commonly asked in almost all documents I have read in the feasibility study phase of creating such an area. The Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area is one where this question is addressed. It is difficult and time consuming to go online and find a document that addresses the heritage area planned by this benevolent NGO.
However, I was able to find the document that is the feasibility study of MSG NHA and to see how that question was addressed (http://mtsgreenway.org/designation). In chapter 1, “National Heritage areas are special regions of the United States that provide outstanding opportunities to tell important chapters of the American story…” Hmm… interesting on a sixth grade level, let me see if I can dig a little deeper.
Since National Heritage Areas are administered by the National Park Service, Let’s see how the NPS frequently asked questions page reads: “National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are designated by Congress as places where natural, cultural, and historic resources combine to form a cohesive, nationally important landscape. NHAs are lived-in landscapes. Consequently, NHA entities collaborate with communities to determine how to make heritage relevant to local interests and needs.” (http://www.nps.gov/history/heritageareas/FAQ/) These FAQs are somewhat more informative, but the concept still sounds a little like chasing the bright elusive butterfly of love. What is the thinking behind the National Heritage Areas? The document “Advancing the National Park Idea, National Parks Second Century Commission Committee Reports” will give more insight into the philosophy behind the National Park Service and its various iterations, including NHAs. Read and you will be enlightened.
“Engage the National Park Service institutional culture in support of all such designated areas.” (www.npca.org/assets/pdf/Committee_Report.PDF) What I am interested in, then, is what happens within a NHA? And do I want to live, conduct business or recreate within one? I will need to look to what has happened in the past and in presently proposed NHAs. National Heritage Areas (NHAs) are regions mapped by a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) or sometimes a quasi-governmental entity, to be managed for the National Park Service. Unfortunately, these management entities are unaccountable in that they are not elected and citizens have no way to control the actions or spending of the entities. The MSG NHA would be managed by the Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust. National Heritage Areas are taxpayer funded, usually at the cost of 1 million dollars per year for a period of 10 years. There is actually no record of the sun setting of these expenditures to date, in fact what often occurs is the NHA managing entity will return to congress asking for an extended border of the NHA. The concept of conflict of interested is either not or vaguely addressed, as this is a program that was up and running before being completely understood or thought out.
The NPS is pushing for perpetual funding of these areas, and propose buffer zones for these and other NPS managed/owned lands. Funds are to be matched by public and private monies (state, county, and city as well as NGOs trusts set up for this purpose). Funding is often a problem of the NHAs, either from lack of matching funds or a lack of will from the Federal Government to provide funding on a consistent basis. In researching NHAs, the report “Advancing the National Park Idea National Parks Second Century Commission” came to my attention. I highly recommend this report and the reports of its eight separate committees be read. This will provide detailed insight into the direction and will of the power hungry National Park Service. (http://www.npca.org/assets/pdf/Commission_Report.PDF)
In the committee report Funding and Budget Committee (http://npca.org/assets/pdf/Committee_Report.PDF) Committee Recommendation 4 “Initiate an evaluation of the potential for legislating tax incentives (credits) and disincentives (fees, penalties) to influence development in certain critical natural resource situations near parks. Also addressed in the report: “Provide by Internal Revenue Code amendment, incentives for preservation of significant natural and cultural places within National Heritage Areas. Assure funding for each National Heritage Area by authorizing direct federal Historic Preservation Fund matching grants for survey, planning, restoration and rehabilitation of significant historic places in National Heritage Areas, and by appropriating commensurate amounts.”
NHAs are grouped into an unidentifiable subset of NPS, and are loosely organized and regulated. The Second Century Commission Report has admissions of this and other problems, it recommends to: “Propose draft legislation to authorize and define a nationwide system of National Heritage Areas. And incorporate into the draft approaches employed by European nations for preserving parks and other special places without removing them from the life and culture of the nation. Resolve the status of other “special designations” such as National Trails, National Corridors, and Wild and Scenic Rivers with regard to the National Park Service and System. And determine whether such areas are units of the National Park System, a parallel system, or functions of National Park Service programs.” This is being considered now after the National Park Service has established 49 NHAs in the United States.
The NPS seems willing to admit they are running out of land: “The current reality is that there are few remaining large tracts from which parks of the old model might be created. Making them into parks often involves overcoming bitter resistance from the agencies that now manage them. There are few philanthropists today who can purchase sufficient lands from private owners and assemble them into workable large parks for donation to the United States as some have done in the past. Government action to purchase such tracts, and even private philanthropic purchase, often meets powerful resistance from individual owners and from property rights organizations.”
The NPS also seems to be willing to admit to problems in dealing with inholders: “Embracing the current reality and eagerly pursuing the likely future will help the National Park Service deal with certain problems that cannot be solved everywhere by following practices traditional to great Western parks. Inholdings, for example, parcels of property that remain in private ownership within park boundaries, are generally considered as location for potentially adverse future development. Often this is correct, but when the inholdings include significant cultural resources not central to the major themes of the park, it equally often is mistaken. Such inholdings that have been generally well maintained by private owners, upon acquisition by the parks instantly become relatively low priority cultural resource maintenance problems. Well-known examples include historic dude ranches, fishing villages, and tourist inns and cabins that may have been well-enough preserved in private ownership but that suffer neglect or worse in consequence of being acquired by parks. In these cases, new approaches such as Heritage Areas, use of preservation easements, or leasing of historic structures may offer better management opportunities than more traditional models. It is essential to fund National Heritage Areas to a level that will allow them to carry out their work. Otherwise the hopes raised by each new authorization eventually will result in disappointment, failure, and cynicism.
In the case of the MSG NHA, the feasibility phase has been conducted, and worked on for three years, and public input including property owners within the supposed and documented boundaries of this NHA has not occurred, even though public involvement is a requirement of the NPS guidelines. “Since NHAs are locally controlled, planned, and implemented, the study team's evaluation of public support for designation (criterion 6) and commitments to partnerships within the study area (criterion 7) are critical to the feasibility analysis. Findings of public support or opposition can be derived from comments at public meetings, letters from individuals and organizations, resolutions from governing bodies, and actual evidence of formal commitments by local governments and others to participate in heritage area planning and programming.” (http://w.nps.gov/history/heritageareas/FSGUIDE/feasibility_guide.html )
Now I live in an area where the MSG is very active and often places posters in community forums asking volunteers to work on planting trees or trail work, but I have never seen a poster asking property owners for their input on being included in a National Heritage Area, is public input a priority to MSG? Every property owner or small business owner I have spoken to within the mapped area has not heard of or been made aware of the MGS NHA. The only recourse for the property owner then is to look at the history of MSG, what the stated goals have been over that history. “The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust leads and inspires action to conserve and enhance the landscape from Seattle across the Cascade Mountains to Central Washington, ensuring a long-term balance between people and nature. The Mountains to Sound Greenway encompasses more than 1.5 million acres of connected natural lands and vibrant urban areas surrounding Interstate 90 between Puget Sound and central Washington. By working collaboratively on sustainable growth, environmental education, and volunteer stewardship, the Greenway Trust conserves a shared heritage of historic towns, spectacular alpine wilderness, working farms and forests, and extensive outdoor recreation and wildlife habitat.”
It is clear in the reading that the 1.5 million acres is something that the trust considers their own. And while theses 1.5 million acres may indeed be connected, it must be remembered that much of that land is privately owned, and needs the agreement of property owners or acquisition before it should be properly considered a part of this Heritage Area. The history of the National Park Service, and its documented functional problems, including the abuse of the willing seller concept, should be considered and looked at closely. Then the homeowner may conclude how this will apply to their property if it is included within the boundaries of the map of this 1.5 million acre proposed NHA.
Should the public be subjected to the rule and visions of these unelected and unaccountable entities? Should private property be included in a NHA? MSG NHA is a forgone conclusion in which little inclusive input has been asked for or accepted, the letters of support in the feasibility study are irrelevant in that the supporters are not property owners from all locales within the mapped area. And in fact the letters of support have come from businesses and individuals that are located in Seattle proper, a government entity of King County (4Culture), and a board member of Mountains to Sound Greenway. The work that has been done on this Heritage Area to date has been done without the benefit of an explanation to or the inclusion of taxpayers, property owners, or those individuals who enjoy our natural resources.
The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust has been kind enough to provide the wording for the 112th Congress for approval of this National Heritage Area. If approved, what will be the cost of this scheme? The cost is on the back of taxpayers who are already paying for the redundant benefits of the federal and local government. If congress funds and then later when facing the true cost of government defunds NHAs, where will the cost for the projects and activities within the NHA be borne? Will this result in additional local taxpayer funding, or additional funding from private sources? What will then be the level of accountability for what is happening to these lands? Or will this Heritage Area face a list of projects that are not completed or fundable? There is without doubt a serious deficit and spending problem with our state and federal government, it is hard to imagine how the funding of National Heritage Areas can be considered sustainable.
The public and the environment already suffers the effects of too many agencies claiming permitting jurisdiction on the lands which are mapped, and where we live to the point of stagnation. Rivers aren’t managed and flooding results because no single agency will step up to the task of getting inter-agency cooperation to address the problems and devastation caused by flooding. Does the public need to add another layer of bureaucracy to this rat’s nest of government unable to govern?
It may just be that the proposed Mountains to Sound Greenway National Heritage Area is a bad idea at a bad time. It is certain that it is an idea that needs far more consideration and public input than what has been allowed to date. Consider some follow up research on NHAs and the NPS of your own: