The Status of Heritage Area Reform Legislation

The National Heritage Areas Act of 2012 (H.R. 4099) introduced to Congress on February 29, 2012 is expected to support the work of four National Heritage Areas in New York State. U.S. Representative Paul Tonko (NY-21) and Charlie Dent (PA-15), co-chairs of the Congressional National Heritage Area Caucus, introduced H.R. 4099, a bill to reform and modernize the nation’s National Heritage Areas (NHA). The bill was referred to the House Committee on Natural Resources’s Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands on March 1.

Six U.S. Representatives from New York joined Congressman Tonko (NY-21) as an original sponsor on the bill that would affect the Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area, the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor, the Champlain Valley National Heritage Partnership, and Niagara Falls National Heritage Area.

U.S. Representatives from New York signing onto the legislation as original sponsors were Eliot Engel (NY-17), Richard Hanna (NY- 24), Maurice Hinchey (NY-22), Chris Gibson (NY-20), Nan Hayworth (NY-19), and Nita Lowey (NY-18).

“The heritage-rich 21st Congressional District helped write our nation’s history,” said Congressman Paul Tonko. “A sense of place stands as a persuasive tool in the very competitive sweepstakes for jobs. Business decision makers are often attracted to a region that expresses significance, including its historical fabric. Therefore, by deepening heritage awareness and understanding a sense of place we are more marketable for jobs. A more defined sense of place provides an important tool in the tool kit for economic recovery.”

The National Heritage Area Program is an initiative of the Department of the Interior which relys on a public-private partnership- federal dollars are matched with an average of $5.50 in other public and private funding. “Heritage areas have a proven record of fostering job creation and advancing economic, cultural, historic, environmental, and community development,” according to a prepared statement issued by the Erie Canalway National Heritage Corridor and Hudson River Valley National Heritage Area. “In addition to creating jobs, NHAs generate valuable revenue for local governments and sustain communities through revitalization and heritage tourism.”

The legislation takes a new approach to heritage areas by establishing for the first time a standardized set of criteria for the designation of new NHAs and the review of those previously authorized. “Having a clearly defined structure to oversee the management of heritage areas will allow these popular public-private partnerships to better preserve the nation’s heritage and spur economic growth with minimal federal support,” the statement said.

Similar proposals to reform and modernize the program had been recommended by both the Bush and Obama administrations.

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