Last week, The Sun featured an article on the decade long effort to make Polk County and surrounding areas a National Heritage Area (NHA). The push is coming from many well-funded non-profits based in Minnesota that wish to protect the St. Croix River...forever. While this is a worthwhile goal, residents and taxpayers in Wisconsin should be skeptical of the specific strategy.
The effort involves soliciting the federal government (Congress) to approve and designate the St. Croix River and its entire watershed an NHA. This goes way beyond the River’s designation as a National Scenic Riverway under the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act of1968.
The U.S. National Park Service as a means of extending conservation to private lands and communities wishing to “protect” their history and cultural heritage sponsors the NHA program. Supporters claim this federal protection leads to economic revitalization in the form of grant money, which must also be matched by taxpayers in the NHA. These funds are used mainly to promote tourism to the newly formed NHA.
Conversely, private landowners and local municipalities under the NHA designation have complained this Act of Congress actually threatens citizens’ property rights and business development within the NHA. Further, it provides non-profit organizations such as the North Woods and Waters (NWW) and the St. Croix River Association (SCRA) with additional and possibly undue influence over zoning decisions and private investments being made in local communities.
Why is Ron Kind (D) of LaCrosse or District #3 proposing legislation, which more directly affects District #7 where Tom Tiffany (R) is our elected representative? Have local Wisconsin municipalities along the St. Croix River and within Polk County provided the input necessary for Congressional approval? Have you read the Feasibility Study done by NWW? Where do our elected officials stand on this issue?
Time to wake up Wisconsin and do some additional research on NHAs. The SUN chose to shed light on just one side of the story.