I want to thank Mr. Paul Hammel for his July 25, 2021 article titled 'Operation Blindside': Proposed Kansas-Nebraska National Heritage Area delt a serious blow' I do appreciate the attention he has brought to this issue. Most property owners do not find out that their home has been mapped, and voted on by Congress, until after the vote has been cast and changes in regulations begin to find them. Thank you, Mr. Hammel.
In addition, Mr. Hammel's inquiry and interview of the Webster County Commission directly resulted in action. Webster County Commissioners were under the impression that the Kansas Nebraska Heritage Area Partnership were no longer in pursuit of a National Heritage Area as a result of Governor Pete Ricketts' letter to the Willa Cather Foundation. The first Commissioners meeting after the interview, resulted in the passing of a resolution in opposition. On July 20th, Webster County joined 40 counties of the 49 mapped in the proposed boundary in saying "no, thank you", to the Kansas Nebraska Heritage Area Partnership. Well, done Mr. Hammel! Well, done!
I would also like to thank the County Commissioners for listening to the property owners within their county. For attending the meetings where we presented, for asking questions of the former representatives and attorneys in their counties. Many, such as Russell County, Kansas Commissioners, did extensive research, talked with landowners, businesses and municipalities in other National Heritage Areas. Gage County, Nebraska was thrilling. They called upon every expert on every side. They got everyone in the county who might have knowledge to offer input and they dedicated time in several meetings discussing and debating National Heritage Areas. No matter the vote, every citizen should be very proud of the dedication of these Commissioners and Supervisors. I am very grateful for them.
I do appreciate Governor Pete Ricketts' willingness to stand up and get involved. The work is ten times harder when news will not carry your message to the people. It makes it necessary to get to as many communities as possible. I do have personal experience in that plight as it is I, who has arranged most of the public meetings and presentations within this proposed federal boundary. In the course of those meetings and the presentations that followed, I have printed more than 2000 copies of Governor Ricketts' letter to the Willa Cather Foundation and distributed them to citizens throughout Nebraska and Kansas. I will hand out even more in the coming months. That does not count the electronic versions. The most recent was sent to property owners in Florida who recently discovered they have a National Heritage Area and are beginning to organize in opposition to it. Thank You Nebraska, for sharing the Governor of your great state with property owners around the country.
I did notice that Mr. Hammel had a difficult time locating landowners willing to be interviewed. So, I would like to help him with finding the information he had sought, such as the National Heritage Area in Yuma, Arizona. That National Heritage Area was reduced to the four square miles it is today after the "suggested" management plan was adopted by local administrators. It took 3 years of residents petitioning Congress in order to get that federal boundary of the Yuma NHA reduced. Additionally, if Mr. Hammel were to spend some time on Congress's website, he would find testimony of residents in Oregon, and Washington who were regulated so extensively that they were ordered to repaint their structures choosing a color from a specific color pallet. I am quite sure that Mr. Hammel did not attend any of our public meetings? Had he attended or called, I would have told him about my home in Lyon County, Kansas. How our county commissioners in an effort to join a neighboring National Heritage Area in pursuit of more grant money, complied with every "suggestion" made by the Flint Hills Regional Council. My Commissioners hired a contractor from Oregon who believes livestock are ruining the earth, to write our planning and zoning regulations. Their drafts banned barb wire and cattle fencing in addition to zoning everything outside of the city limits as a park. Lyon County is located inside of the Flint Hills, in cattle country. We grow rocks and livestock here. I spent $20,000 in legal fees and public awareness advertising during that fight. None of the donations we have received has come close to covering the expense of this fight. Sadly, I did not win. Right now, the city of Emporia, their commissioners, representatives whom I will never be allowed to vote for because I do not live in their district, is granted jurisdiction over unincorporated lands throughout the county through Joint Planning and Zoning. Though we have been granted permission to fence in our livestock, less the corner posts within the visual site triangle, the city and county still have extreme regulations that became enforceable on April 1st. I expect enforcement will be based on what parcels "partners and stakeholders" would like to develop as neither municipality has the manpower to enforce all of the newly adopted regulations on the entire county.
I also noticed that no one realizes that National Heritage Area is not a condition for federal grant dollars. How is your local tourism industry failing to promote the historical places? Does creating a federal boundary, voted on by Congress, with a management plan guided by the National park Service under the Department of Interior, truly aid the people living within the boundary? Or does it aid the people who sit on the boards of the National Heritage Area? Had Mr. Hammel been made aware of the Inspector General Report on the National Heritage Area in Mississippi that used federal funds to purchase property for the National Heritage Area, after of course, the director bought it and then sold it to the NHA, that he was the director of, for a profit... Well, I am sure Mr. Hammel would ask the question of who actually benefits from the federal boundary of a National Heritage Area.
And of course, that would naturally lead him to the question of land acquisitions. Creating a federal law preventing the use of federal dollars for land acquisition has not prevented National Heritage Areas from becoming National Parks. Blackstone River National Park was once a National Heritage Area. Shenandoah National Heritage Area is now a National Park, so too is Cane River Creole.
I am so glad Mr. Hammel and The Omaha World Herald has brought this issue to light.