Fox Valley Initiative, an Appleton area Tea Party Group, has taken Congressman Tom Petri, Fond du Lac Republican, to task for his support of a Heritage area that would cut a swath across much of the state. The FVI recently posted a piece stating its concerns. At my request Petri, through a staff member, responded point by point. Petri's responses are the bold and underlined sections:
BY FVI ACTIVITIES COMMITTEE SATURDAY, JULY 7, 2012 AT 5:52PM
The proposed Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway (FWHP) stretches from Green Bay to Prairie du Chien. It will include 1,444 square-miles which run through the heart of 45 communities and 15 counties. If the proposal is approved by Congress and the President, 1,382,293 Wisconsin property owners, citizens and businesses will suddenly find themselves within the boundaries of a National Heritage Area (NHA).
This designation has been requested by an unelected, local special-interest group - Friends of the Fox (FOTF). Since about 1997, federal funds have been provided this group, along with planning expertise, to develop the parkway plan. Both the Friends of the Fox organization and the Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway organization have not received any federal funds to date. Only now, a full 15 years later, is this plan finally coming to the attention of Private Property Owners (PPO) whose property will fall within the designated area. The planner’s decision to include land owners within the boundaries, without notifying them, immediately confirms their lack of concern for the rights of these individuals. There have been at least 70-80 public meetings held from 2008 through 2012 in areas included in the corridor. To have thousands of individuals wake up one morning and, without warning, find their property is in a federal park is the ultimate violation of private-property rights. An NHA designation does not create a national park nor does it turn any land over to the federal government. Such a designation also does not give the federal government any additional control over local land use decisions. In essence, the boundaries of an NHA have no regulatory effect -- they simply delineate an area that has been officially recognized by Congress as having great cultural and historical significance. The intent of such a designation is to highlight the importance of a region to our nation's history and to recognize local efforts to preserve and promote the heritage of that region.
The parkway will require a two-mile “buffer zone” along both sides of the entire 280-mile length of the Fox and Wisconsin rivers and all connected lakes and streams. The buffer zone line has no meaning. It was simply a line on the planning maps showing that most of the existing historic landmarks in the Fox-Wisconsin corridor fall within 2 miles of the rivers. That line has no regulatory effect. The FWHP plan also has identified huge slices of land which will have, or already have, endangered-species protections. Some of the maps showing the Fox-Wisconsin Parkway designation include indications of endangered species areas, wildlife areas and refuges, and other current designations such as the Ice Age Trail. These are maps of the status quo. All of these areas are currently designated as such by local, state or federal law. These designations were created through separate processes completely independent of the heritage area process. In fact, designating a heritage area in this region confers no power to create new endangered species areas or any of these other designations. In all, there will be 924,000 acres contained in the Heritage Parkway.
The plan is supported by Rep. Tom Petri, who recently stated in his newsletter: “There are 49 designated heritage areas around the country, and they seem to be wholly positive for their local areas.” This is a quote from a politician who has done limited, or only selected research on the issue and with little concern for the property owners in his district. And, it doesn’t explain why the original FWHP Concept Plan (dated 1997) identifies private property litigation as a major liability item. Today, the proposed FWHP Plan now states it will not directly affect private property owners. Why is there a concern for litigation within the Concept Plan if there are really no liability concerns that the plan will affect PPOs? The Concept Plan that is addressed above was written to plan for the transfer of federally-managed locks and dams from the federal government to state and local entities in Wisconsin. That whole process transferred land from the federal government to the locals so that the heritage of the Fox-Wisconsin corridor could be better preserved through local efforts. The references above regarding how to deal with liability issues refers to how issues would be resolved given that the state and local governments were going to take control of significant areas that were once federally managed. Those references are unrelated to a federal heritage area designation. All of those locks and dams -- and the land around them -- are now run by the Fox River Navigational System Authority, which itself is run by the affected counties and state agencies.
The truth is that the unelected FWHP managing entity will partner with and influence local municipalities and state/local agencies which possess the power to restrict, regulate, and zone the land. While the FWHP board does not directly have elected officials on it, it is made up of representatives from local governments, local planning commissions, state agencies such as the WI Dept. of Tourism and WI DNR, a representative from the local Chamber of Commerce (Oshkosh), the Wisconsin Historical Society, representatives from local educational institutions, and a number of citizen representatives.
Once the parkway is designated as a National Heritage Area, owners within it may not opt out and will remain under its management. Interior appropriations law for FY2010 (P.L. 111-88) contained provisions on the inclusion and removal of private property within NHAs. These provisions were intended to give private property owners the option of being included in or excluded from a heritage area. They would allow a private property owner within an NHA to opt out of participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the area. See the provision text below:
NATIONAL HERITAGE AREA, OPT OUT PROVISION
SEC. 127. Any owner of private property within an existing or new National Heritage Area may opt out of participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the National Heritage Area if the property owner provides written notice to the local coordinating entity.
The original funding for technical assistance to the FWHP management plan will expire in 15 years. At that time a new and revised management plan will be developed and require approval of the National Park Service. The parkway will evolve throughout time. So, too, will its impact on PPOs – direct or indirect, intended or unintended. In addition, the management entity will have the authorization to donate the parkway to the National Park Service if support funding dries up. There is no type of eminent domain authority where the management entity could donate lands in the parkway to the National Park Service.
What will this mean for property owners? No one knows the answer because no PUBLIC hearing has been held or is being planned where questions can be asked about the parkway’s impact on PPO’s rights. See above about public hearings.
The benign-sounding language in the legislation is not based in fact or real-world experiences of PPOs impacted by NHA designations in other parts of the country. Thousands of plan details, quietly developed during the past 15 years, remain virtually unknown to the 1,382,293 Wisconsin residents they will affect.
The Fox Valley Initiative seeks to demand a public hearing for Private Property Owners in each community within the parkway’s boundaries. It is our mission to shine a bright and disinfecting sunlight on the Fox Wisconsin Heritage Parkway plans and proposed legislation.
Private Property Owners Beware!
It's obvious thousands of hours have gone into the planning of the proposed Fox-Wisconsin Heritage Parkway (NWHP). But, average Private-Property Owners (PPO) and private-property advocates have been noticeably absent from the entire planning process as has John Q. Public. For over a decade, this highly complex process which will impact over ¼ of Wisconsin citizens, it is odd that no true effort has been made to notify literally tens of thousands of PPOs within the proposed parkway boundaries. Again, see above about public hearings.
You have to ask yourself, exactly when were all the parkway planners going to notify the affected PPOs—before or after it becomes law? And, when was this huge group of property owners going to be allowed to provide proportionate input? By their actions, it seems safe to say, that was not part of the planner's plan!
Again, the planner’s decision to include land owners within the parkway boundaries, without notifying them, immediately confirms their lack of concern for the rights of these individuals. To have thousands of individuals wake up one morning and, without warning, find their property is in a federal park is the ultimate violation of private-property rights. As mentioned above, it does not in any way create a national park designation.