H.R. 324: Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Act

H.R. 324

Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area Act

Sponsor
Rep. Raul M. Grijalva

Date
September 23, 2009 (111th Congress, 1st Session)

Staff Contact
Communications

Floor Situation

On Wednesday, September 23, 2009, the House may consider H.R. 324, under a closed rule.  This legislation was introduced by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) on January 8, 2009.  The bill was referred to the Committee on Natural Resources, which took no official action.  On September 8, 2009, the bill was considered on the floor of the House under a suspension of the rules, requiring a two-thirds majority vote for passage, and was defeated by a vote of 249-145.

 

Bill Summary

H.R. 324 would establish the 3,325 square mile Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area in Santa Cruz and Pima counties in the State of Arizona and authorize $15 million in federal funds to pay for the designation.

The bill would require that a management plan for the Santa Cruz National Heritage Area be submitted to the Secretary of Interior within three years of the date that funds are made available. Among other things, the plan must describe the policies, goal and strategies for "telling the story of the heritage of the area" and encouraging long-term management. The plan must include a description of the commitments of federal, State, and local governments for managing the Heritage Area and identify sources of funding. In addition, the plan must include and inventory of the natural and historical resources within the Heritage Area that should be protected.

The bill would establish the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, Inc. as the local coordinating entity responsible for preparing the management plan and providing an annual report to the Secretary of Interior. The Alliance would also be responsible for carrying out the commitments outlined in the plan.

H.R. 324 states that nothing in the bill shall abridge the rights of any property owner to refrain from participation in any "plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the National Heritage Area." The bill would also prohibit requirements that property owners permit public access to their property. In addition, the legislation states that nothing in the bill diminishes the State's authority to regulate hunting and fishing in the Heritage area or creates any liability for any private property owner with respect to any person injured on the private property.

H.R. 324 would authorize $1 million annually to carry out the requirements of the bill and require that any federal costs be matched at 50 percent contributions of goods or services. Under the bill, the authority of the Secretary to provide financial assistance would terminate in 15 years.

 

Background

The National Park Service describes a National Heritage Area as a "complex matrix of public and private land" wherein conservation and preservation efforts are centrally managed. The designation creates a managing entity composed of federal, State, and local governments, along with private sector organizations. The goal of the entity is to encourage and develop conservation projects within the area. Though there is not a legislative standard for creating a National Heritage Area, 49 have been established by Congress to date. Earlier this year, Congress passed S. 22, the Omnibus Public Land Management Act of 2009, which created 10 Heritage Areas at a cost of $103.5 million.

According to the Santa Cruz Valley Heritage Alliance, "the proposed boundaries of the Santa Cruz Valley National Heritage Area encompass approximately 3,325 square miles. These boundaries mark an area that is a source of identity for residents, is a coherent natural and cultural landscape, and has sufficient nature and heritage resources to support a National Heritage Area designation."

In the past, National Heritage Areas have been criticized by land rights organizations because they encompass non-federal land. The area is administered by a managing entity, which includes a federal government component and federal funds. Often times, the managing entity is able to regulate zoning and other restrictions across local government jurisdictions. As a result, residents are often not aware of possible new restrictions imposed by heritage area designations because they are different than local regulations. According to CRS, "the NPS could exert federal control over nonfederal lands by influencing zoning and land-use planning," thus raising numerous private property concerns.

In addition to potential property rights concerns, some Members expressed concerns that the proposed Heritage area covers a significant portion of Arizona's border with Mexico and the designation could impede border security and interdiction efforts. Some Members also expressed concern that the designation could possibly be used by the Heritage Area management entity to prevent the permanent establishment of communication towers, fencing, cameras or sensors meant to stop illegal immigration along the U.S.-Mexico border.

 

Cost

A CBO cost estimate of H.R. 324 was not yet available as of press time.