Property Rights Foundation of America®



The Honorable George W. Bush
President of the United States of America
The White House
1600 Pennsylvania Ave., NW
Washington, DC 20500

Re: American Heritage Rivers

Dear Mr. President:

Thank you for your decision to cancel the American Heritage Rivers program, which has been headquartered in the President's Council on Environmental Quality.

Opposition to this boondoggle is based on many expert observations, Congressional testimony, and local experience. I'd like to point out some of the key reasons why it is very important that you do not continue this program.

l. The American Heritage Rivers Initiative was declared by Executive Order after years of defeat in Congress.
In 1997, President Clinton unilaterally declared this program, which was one of Vice President Al Gore's pet projects, by Executive Order at the behest of American Rivers and other powerful environmental preservation groups, after grassroots local activists from all over the country worked together in both the Democratic and Republican Congresses for over three years to defeat the passage of the generic American, or National, Heritage Areas program. When the American Heritage Areas program was going nowhere, Pres. Clinton simply declared it by fiat, with a slightly revised name.

2. Federal control over zoning.
President Clinton's program differed in certain details from the major bills that grassroots activists defeated in the Congress, but basically it was a vehicle for the federal government to control local land-use. The federal government should stay out of zoning.

3. Overlapping agencies, surreptitious employees, and unaudited costs.
One of the most irresponsible aspects of Clinton's American Heritage Rivers program is that it is impossible to tell how much it costs or where its employees were. When the American Heritage Rivers Initiative got into full swing, it had not only federally appointed "Navigators" for each of the rivers, but also "Community Contacts" hand-selected from state agencies and major national and regional interest groups, as well as federally employed "Co-Facilitators." Federal employees with much additional staff became based in many different federal departments, including the EPA, Department of Transportation, Coast Guard, USDA Forest Service, USDA Watersheds and Wetlands Division of Natural Resources and Conservation Service, Department of Defense - Corps of Engineers, Housing and Urban Development, Department of Commerce, and Fish and Wildlife Service. Nearly untraceable part-time or temporary employees took junkets from DC to Hawaii and other locations to hard-sell the program. In addition, an American Heritage Rivers federal "Interagency Committee" is composed of members of thirteen agencies, from Department of Justice to the EPA.

4. Dictatorial selection of American Heritage Rivers over local opposition
The Rivers were supposedly selected as a result of local support, but the process was basically secretive, and, if discovered, dictatorial, unless local citizens were able to organize across multiple counties or multiple states to raise a big stink. Meetings and hearings were commonly concealed from the public, and when the public found, the agendas were exclusionary. Using grassroots organizing tactics, hard-working activists defeated a few rivers, such as the Wabash American Heritage River, but other selections prevailed over local opposition, including the nomination for the Hudson American Heritage River, which was unilaterally "submitted" by Governor George Pataki, by keeping top secret the fact that the designation would include the full river length. The might of the federal government and powerful state governments was used to roll past local participation.

5. American Heritage Rivers designation is already trampling on local economies.
One of the first negative impacts of American Heritage River designation was felt at the Hanalei American Heritage River in Hawaii, where local tour boats were harshly curtailed after a vacation visit by then-Vice President Gore to this area, a favorite vacation spot for him. The New River American Heritage River is currently engaged in controversy because of the aggressive tactics of the National Park Service against local landowners.

6. The American Heritage River program exceeds executive powers to implement without an Act of Congress.
This important legal point is why so many years were spent attempting to get the program through Congress.

7. Proponents portray the American Heritage Rivers program to the general public as a tourism, historic, and federal aid program, often de-emphasizing the environmental aspects. However, the program is very nebulously defined in the implementing documents. This represents irresponsible governance. The program actually appears to be a keystone of watershed land-use enforcement.
The American Heritage Rivers program has so many fingers and participants, that its full potential impact is impossible to indicate in this letter. Although the program has no direct enforcement powers, the machinery set in place would make federal meddling in local affairs and the negative impact of overzealous federal regulators on private property owners much more intrusive. One example of machinery that began to be set up under the program was an extremely ambitious EPA system of student monitoring of water bodies that appeared to be for the purpose of facilitating and popularizing enforcement. It was also apparent that watershed monitoring, called "State of the River Reports," was to heavily rely on computerized GIS (geographic information systems), which are digitalized maps. It appears that these computerized map overlays were to be used to efficiently select areas for implementation of combined federal/state enforcement, as well as to help frame additional restrictive land-use legislation.

In the opinion of many experts, the Clinton-Gore American Heritage Rivers program was conceived an extremely grandiose scheme to extend federal power and tie landowners in more knots when they want to use their property. All of the overtly declared federal aid functions could be implemented through numerous existing programs without the federal designation of regional river areas.

The American Heritage Rivers program stands for some of the worst traits of the now-discredited Clinton Administration. These characteristics were rejected when you were elected to office. I look to you to reject doublespeak, federal meddling in local affairs, and federal squelching of individual rights.





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