Congress May Be a Lame Duck, But National Heritage Area Proposal Still Lives

We’re told Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) is going to try to get his National Heritage Area legislation through Congress during the lame duck session.

We worry that the National Heritage Area plan could harm property rights and inappropriately increase federal involvement in land-use decisions that up to now have been made by local governments and the citizens to which they answer.

Our press release in this instance examines claims that local governments are the ones clamoring for an increased federal role in planning decisions made in the areas of Pennsylvania, Maryland, West Virginia and Virginia roughly encompassing Gettysburg, Harper’s Ferry, Frederick and Charlotteville and the lands between.

“Local Support” for Congressman Wolf’s National Heritage Area Bill Largely Smoke and Mirrors

Sources Say Effort Will Be Made to Get Bill Adopted During Lame Duck Session

Washington, D.C. – The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act does not enjoy the broad local support that its supporters claim, concludes an investigation by the National Center for Public Policy Research.

According to multiple Congressional sources, Rep. Frank Wolf (R-VA) has now made plans to sneak his controversial Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act through during the “lame duck” congressional session next week.

During promotional and lobbying efforts, the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Partnership has claimed their “campaign to be recognized as the nation’s 28th National Heritage Area continues to move forward as counties and towns along the four-state corridor join their neighbors in passing resolutions of support.”

However, an examination reveals many of these supposed resolutions of support do not endorse the federal legislation, but merely acknowledge the rich history of a region described by the Journey Through Hallowed Ground foundation as a “corridor… from Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, through Frederick County, Maryland and ending in Charlottesville, Virginia” and laud the opportunity of local groups to work with and learn from one another.

Resolutions passed by the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia town of Warrenton and the Albemarle County VA Board of Supervisors and others do not support, nor even mention, the federal legislation.

For example, the resolution passed by the Virginia General Assembly acknowledges “the intrinsic importance to Virginia of the Journey Through Hallowed Ground project,” but defines the project not as a federal National Heritage Area but as a “partnership” among 19 specified non-profit organizations and local government entities. The partnership, the resolution states, is supported by the General Assembly so Virginians can “learn from groups in Maryland and Pennsylvania” and “contribute to the economic development potential of the localities that border the Route 15/20 corridor.”

There is no indication in the resolution that the General Assembly was even made aware of, let alone supported, plans to create a federal “Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area,” which would involve the federal government in Virginia’s local land-use planning, before the resolution was voted on.

The Albemarle County Board resolution is strikingly similar to the Virginia state resolution. It endorses only the “importance” of the 19-member partnership and the opportunity to “learn from groups in Maryland and Pennsylvania.” No federal role is mentioned, let alone endorsed.

According to Kenneth Boyd, vice chairman of the Albemarle County Board of Supervisors, the Albemarle County Board’s resolution was for “general support of the concept, but not much beyond that.”

The Loudoun County Board of Supervisors rejected a resolution in support of the Journey Through Hallowed initiative.

“One of the big reasons I’m opposed to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Heritage Area is the inability to get the true facts about the project from the people who are promoting it,” said Jim Clem, a member of the Loudoun County Board of Supervisors. “While this project may be well intended, it’s my opinion that it’s just another means of stopping development in this area.”

“Route 15 is a busy State Highway that needs safety improvements,” continued Clem, who chairs the Loudoun County Board’s Public Safety Committee. “It’s my opinion that the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Project will cause delays or stoppage of these critical highway improvements. While I am a strong supporter of preserving our history, people’s rights need to be preserved also.”

Warrenton, Virginia’s supposed resolution of support is entitled “Resolution Nominating Route 15 in the Town of Warrenton for Inclusion in the State’s Scenic Byway System.” No mention of federal Heritage Areas.

Other claims of local support for the federal legislative initiative are weak.

Proponents of the federal heritage area legislation, including its sponsor, U.S. Representative Frank Wolf in his testimony before the House Subcommittee on National Parks in September, cite a poll purporting to show that a significant majority of residents along the Heritage Area’s proposed route support the initiative.

But the Fauquier Times Democrat reported last year that the poll was commissioned by special interest groups pushing for the Heritage Area and used a questionable sampling method. The poll also did not disclose any specific legislative initiatives to the poll’s respondents. In addition, the Times Democrat noted, “96 percent [of respondents] were not familiar with the plan.”

The National Center also questions the claim that the Heritage Area lobbying effort is locally-driven, given the financing of the group leading the effort. The Journey Through Hallowed Ground foundation received a one million dollar earmark in last year’s federal transportation bill. As a member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee, Rep. Wolf was well-positioned to play a key role in securing such funding for the group.

On October 10, 2006, the National Center for Public Policy Research issued a press release, “Did Frank Wolf Earmark Funds to Aid His Own Legislative Initiative?,” calling on the Congressman “to fully disclose his role in securing a $1 million earmark to the Journey Through Hallowed Ground Foundation included in last year’s massive transportation bill.” No response was received. Congressman Wolf has reportedly refused other requests to disclose his earmark activity.

“There is a big difference between resolutions that praise the historic significance of the area, and resolutions that support federal legislation to empower a new, unelected ‘management entity’ to help manage the area’s land use policies,” said Peyton Knight, director of environmental and regulatory affairs for the National Center for Public Policy Research. “Anyone who is told that a local government entity has endorsed the Wolf bill should request a copy of the alleged resolution of support, and check the actual text.”

“Local support for this federal Heritage Area must depend on your definition of the word ‘local,'” said David Ridenour, vice president of the National Center for Public Policy Research. “It appears that push polls, earmarks and creative interpretations of county and city resolutions constitute ‘local support’ to the Hallowed Ground lobby. That’s not how things work in the real world.”

The National Center for Public Policy Research, founded in 1982, is a non-partisan, non-profit educational foundation based in Washington, D.C.

For more information on the Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area proposal, I (unsurprisingly) recommend these or other National Center publications on the proposal:

National Policy Analysis #548: Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area Act of 2006 Fact Sheet

National Policy Analysis #540: The Journey Through Hallowed Ground National Heritage Area: An Example of How Pork-Barrel Politics Can Threaten Local Rule and Property Rights

National Center Blog Post: Journey Through Hallowed Ground Debated in House Committee

National Center Blog Post: “Hallowed Ground”: A National Heritage Area History Lesson

Press Release: Did Frank Wolf Earmark Funds to Aid His Own Legislative Initiative?

The National Center for Public Policy Research is a communications and research foundation supportive of a strong national defense and dedicated to providing free market solutions to today’s public policy problems. We believe that the principles of a free market, individual liberty and personal responsibility provide the greatest hope for meeting the challenges facing America in the 21st century.