U.S. Rep. John Rutherford has filed a bill to create a National Heritage Area in Northeast Florida, a designation that a conservative property rights organization calls “one of the most despicable stealth land grabs in the nation.”
Rutherford, a Republican from Jacksonville, says his bill has adequate private property rights and that opponents are distorting the facts.
Eye on Jacksonville has asked the American Policy Center organization to comment on Rutherford’s bill specifically.
Tom DeWeese, president of the organization, has written that NHAs are “about control and money – lots of money in the pockets of private groups promoting their own agendas. Including taking control of people’s private land.”
Rutherford’s proposal is to create the Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area extending from the state line as far south as Fort Matanzas. He says it has broad support.
The “coordinating entity” would be a 501c (3) called the Nation’s Oldest Port Heritage Area Alliance Inc. It must publish annual reports and be audited.
Rutherford’s bill states, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed to require the owner of any private property located within the boundaries of the heritage area to participate in or be associated with the heritage area.”
Similar language has been included in previous proposals, and DeWeese has said, “That language is nothing but a flimflam to keep you calm and ease your concerns, because it is physically impossible to opt out of an official government boundary that has been created by federal legislation and federal funds. It is also impossible to simply declare that you are going to opt out of any of the land-use regulations, down-zoning, or other restrictions that result from the Heritage Area designation.
DeWeese says the villain in heritage areas is the federal funding.
“NHAs are a massive sham, full of government pork, imposed by dishonest, anti-heritage, anti-private property elitism. Politicians, federal agencies, and private non-governmental organizations (NGOs) use the NHAs as a tool to gain votes, political power, and wealth. Moreover, these forces use the NHAs to impose politically-motivated restrictions on private land.”
American Policy Center claims to have been instrumental in defeating plans to establish two proposed heritage areas in Louisiana and Virginia.
The organization also links the heritage areas to Agenda 21, an allegedly non-binding action plan for sustainable development, produced at the Earth Summit (UN Conference on Environment and Development) held in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil, in 1992. One major objective of the Agenda 21 initiative is that every local government should draw its own local Agenda 21. The Tea Party movement has been highly critical of the plan.
Rutherford says DeWeese is distorting the facts.
“First of all, the federal money comes in the form of MATCHING GRANTS that the local managing entity must first raise. That means local support. Also, local buy-in for this designation is significant. You can ask the St Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum for their work in that regard,” he said.
DeWeese has written, “The experience with at least 49 such Heritage Areas now in existence nationwide clearly shows such groups will convert this money into political activism to encourage local community and county governments to pass and enforce strict zoning laws.”
Rutherford responded by saying, “If this occurs, remember they only receive matching grants which requires community support to raise the match. I don’t believe that will overwhelm the local community stakeholders and local government officials to turn their backs on constituents (i.e. property owners) and pass restrictive zoning. Clearly, even the writer acknowledges its local control. “
Rutherford says DeWeese “admits only the local government can control and approve land use; nothing in the NHA changes that.”
“Finally, I too care about, and will always protect individual property rights. Nothing in this act is contrary to that fact,” Rutherford said.
“Could some local government overstep property owner’s rights? It happens all over this country every day, and they don’t need a NHA designation to do that,” he said.
“These are local treasures that the local community want to preserve for the cultural benefit of the entire country; I don’t think it’s wrong to ask federal taxpayers to minimally assist in that preservation for their benefit.”