Property Rights Foundation of America®

Testimony to
Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands
of the House Natural Resources Committee

In Opposition to the
Hudson River Valley American Heritage Area (HR-4720)

Presented by
Carol W. LaGrasse, President
Property Rights Foundation of America, Inc. July 28, 1994

 

To look at the Hudson River Valley American Heritage Area in isolation is to entirely miss the nature of the proposal. It is one of a vast array of National Heritage corridors in various stages, that individually and as a totality are potentially devastating to private property and which are complementary to an array of federal environmental controls on land such as wetlands and endangered species rules, as well as agencies and policies such as the U.N. Biosphere Reserves and watersheds and coastal commissions, that have barely begun to demonstrate their own powers to mutilate private property rights.

The American Heritage Areas, which I shall refer to more appropriately as "National Heritage Corridors," have been conceived without local participation, by secret communication among elites. The Hudson Valley corridor includes part of Congressman Jerry Solomon's district in Saratoga, Columbia, Greene, Rensselaer and Duchess Counties. It is my understanding that Congressman Solomon opposes the corridor district unless the communities request designation. Four county farm bureaus, Albany County—whose president attends every Greenway Council meeting—, Columbia County, Greene County, and Ulster County, are forwarding resolutions in opposition to the national designation.

In New York State, the Hudson Valley National Heritage Corridor is part of a vast system of land regimentation and acquisition. From the 6-million-acre so-called Adirondack Park

occupying a full one-fifth of the area of the state, the controls are expanding to the United Nations Adirondack-Champlain Biosphere Reserve, to the federally designated Northern Forest Lands, to the interstate Great Lakes Commission, and so on to the Champlain-Hudson Heritage Corridor proposed by Senator Jeffords of Vermont.

Congressman Hinchey was the prime mover in the State Legislature in the failed effort to increase state regulation of private land in the Adirondack Park in line with the recommendations of the elite 1990 Governor Cuomo commission which Audubon's president Berle headed. The centerfold of the Positions on Property (Vol. 1, No. 1, See Publication Order Form) gives a picture of the magnitude of the environmental zones and land acquisition programs already accomplished and being set down in the state, Over 60 percent of the land is under the gun. The pie chart on page 5 shows the cumulative effect, considering the other corridors, coastal areas, other environmental zones such as the million acres in the Catskill Mountain preserve and watershed, and wetlands.

The Champlain-Hudson Corridor would start at the Canadian border and extend to the Saratoga Battlefield National Park, which is presently being expanded under threat of eminent domain. From the National Park, the Hudson River Greenway established by the State Legislature continues southward. The mandatory zoning powers sought by Mr. Hinchey for the Greenway agency were eliminated because of local opposition. The Hinchey Hudson River Heritage Corridor bill would convert the State Greenway to a joint National Park Service/State program, and with the Jeffords' Champlain-Hudson Heritage Corridor proposal would establish federal zoning jurisdiction over fully every county from the Canadian border to the city of New York, down the historic spine of New York State.

Nationally, the Heritage Corridor system is, similarly, only a part of a juggernaut of federal controls on land use and land acquisition, which can barely be alluded to during this testimony. The Hudson Valley proposal is part of a generic system containing so far 100-odd regional corridors in various stages of legislation.

Other federal preservation programs have taken ten to twenty years to confront property owners in all their brute potential. Who would have thought that the 1973 Endangered Species Act to protect creatures from "harm" would be interpreted to preserving hundreds or thousands of acres per owl of "habitat" untouched on private land or that people would lose their homes in California to protect rats? Who would have speculated that a law against dumping fill in navigable waters would evolve to the point that good citizens are imprisoned or lose their life savings for filling apparently dry so-called "wetlands"?

The Heritage Corridor system in its initial stages is far more ambitious than the wetlands or the endangered species legislation. First, the vastness of the program, as mapped by Congressman Young's staff from the command list quietly kept by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, is unmistakable. It is growing to be a virtual takeover of the eastern half of the U.S. by the National Park Service. The 11 most westerly states are already nearly half federal land. The generic bill calls for National Park Service "regulatory assistance." The Hudson Valley bill, like the generic bill, calls for a contractual relationship between the National Park Service and the state entity, in this case the Greenway Council. (The head of this state agency is paid by the remarkable arrangement that his salary comes by check from the private interests that spawned the corridor, rather than from the state comptroller.)

To get an idea of how the federal control of zoning comes in, take a look at the Canal Corridor in Augusta, Georgia. The National Park Service said on June 28 that it cannot accept the plan for that corridor unless zoning was made stricter.

The Mississippi River Corridor calls for an all-powerful consortium of the National Park Service, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Coast Guard, and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to plan for protection of every resource in the 2,500-mile Mississippi River Valley from cultural and historical to biological and water resources.

A couple of corridors that seem to have settled in peacefully enough as voluntary setups are cited as examples for the Hudson Valley corridor. But the plan for the most-cited one, the Blackstone River corridor in Massachusetts and Rhode Island, calls for ultimately scrapping the voluntary arrangement and imposing mandatory zoning controls.

Another arrangement cited as a model for the corridors is the federally created interstate Columbia River Gorge Commission, where small property owners are finding their lifetime investment subject to inverse condemnation—their land reduced in value and up for sale to the U.S. Forest Service.

In the Hudson Valley, there is State and not-profit land trust pressure to acquire land for "public use," Scenic Hudson being the major acquisition agency, The State's Open Space Conservation Plan calls for acquiring 60-odd strips of land in the corridor in the central Hudson Valley alone. This State acquisition list was made without the knowledge of the landowners whose properties comprise the land areas.

The National Park Service, which would be the managing arm for the Heritage Corridors, has a far worse record than New York State respecting private property, not just in places like Ohio's Cuyahoga River Valley where 400 homes were condemned in the 1970's, but to this day in the Indiana Sand Dunes where suburban homes are under pressure and 700 have been removed, along the Appalachian Trail where owners are threatened with eminent domain to widen the completed trail, and along the Buffalo National River in Arkansas where residents fear that the park will be enlarged from a viewshed to a ten times larger watershed.

The corridor system must be recognized for its real nature—an effort to create vast greenways for animal habitat and biodiversity, using the flimsy economic diversion of trails and tourism, and cultural preservation, as the ploys. The National Park Service is an enemy of cultural preservation; witness the blocking off of cemeteries from families who want to pay their respects inside the new Buffalo River park and the lack of permission to rebuild homes after the free-ranging fires in Yellowstone, for instance.

In reality, the proponents and the beneficiaries of the corridors are not farmers, nor town and rural businesses and residents, but land trusts like The Nature Conservancy, the Conservation Fund, and the Trust for Public Land (who got the last residents out of Tridal Veil in the Columbia Gorge by creating an asbestos scare); the national environmental organizations like Sierra Club, Audubon and Earth First! whose "eco-regions" and "wild-lands" schemes glamorize their fundraising; and the bureaucrats who increase their turf.

The real loss if programs like the Hudson Valley National Heritage Corridor are allowed to proliferate is two-fold: First in personal freedoms, including the civil right to own private property, and second in economic prosperity, as big government squeezes the use of land and resources.

Carol W. LaGrasse

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