Carol LaGrasse, it is so good to see you again, and welcome. Please proceed.
Ms. LAGRASSE. Thank you, Mrs. Chenoweth. Thank you for the honor of testifying today.
My name is Carol LaGrasse. I'm the president of the Property Rights Foundation of America in Stony Creek, New York. That organization is a grassroots, nationwide organization dedicated to preserving, in all its fullness, the fundamental human right to own private property, as guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution.
I'm a retired Stony Creek elected councilman and also a retired civil and environmental engineer. For the past 4 years, I have been studying the National, or American, Heritage Areas (or Corridors) and exposing the grandiose scope of this program and its implications for private property rights and local representative government. Now the President has pronounced the American Heritage Rivers program.
Around the countryside where I live in upstate New York or down in New York City or on Long Island, where I originally hail from, no one has told me that they're looking for an American Rivers Heritage Program or for any element of the program, as defined in any of the written documents. And on the other side of the coin, many people have called the Property Rights Foundation of America from the States of Washington and California, to the midwestern States of Indiana and Minnesota, to the eastern States of Maine and Virginia, and many more, for help to block the program.
The American Heritage Rivers program is of great national concern. Because of the widespread fear, I've been invited to speak numerous times about the American Heritage Rivers program on Radio and TV talk shows, and have in fact received more requests to speak about this topic than any other topic during the year.
After 3 years of successful grassroots private property rights opposition to the National, or American, Heritage Areas program in Congress, the Clinton Administration has pronounced this, a very similar, but more ambitious, in my estimation, program unilaterally through the rulemaking or Executive Order process. Of course, everybody knew that, no matter how much the wording was watered down in the American Heritage Areas program, it was designed to bring the National Park Service into local zoning and to transfer land ownership to government. This is the mentality and future people are afraid of, and I am not ashamed to use the word "fear."
Now I have to add some remarks about New York and get to the home territory because there were some statements which I think were misleading today. In New York's Hudson Valley, contrary to the impression left by Mr. Babbitt, Mr. Hinchey, and Mr. Miller at the July 15th congressional hearing, there is widespread opposition still remaining to the National Heritage Areas Program. People still don't like it in connection with the Hudson River Valley designation, however successfully it's been completed. And I've attached to the testimony two items that demonstrate the continuing opposition.
The first is a statement by one of the active local citizens' groups, the Coxsackie Awareness Group, which was printed in the New York Property Rights Clearinghouse published by this organization, and explains that the local people oppose the program as another potential infringement on their private property rights.
Now this group which authored the letter that we published had gotten started because it successfully defeated a local town zoning program that came down over a period of 25 years from the passage by Congress of the Federal Coastal Zone Management Act.
The second item I'm enclosing is a recent letter to the editor by a Hyde Park resident in opposition to me personally and the Property Rights Foundation. The writer mentions a meeting that was a forum by the Columbia County Planning Department, where I was one of six speakers. The other five were government speakers in support of the Hudson Valley National Heritage Area being completed. You may recall that the Solomon portion was left out, and it was later added.
There was $10 million in pork barrel that was concerning these speakers, as well as the environmentalists who were included in the six. The writer of this letter states that his group needs Federal funding because of the problem, as he calls it, to him, and now I quote, "The majority of the standing-room only audience appeared to be supportive of her" [meaning Carol LaGrasse's] views."
Now, the Council on Environmental Quality has represented the American Heritage Rivers Program as an honor and ombudsman. I'd just like to make the statement that, at most, the honor is a very minor feature of the program. Neither is the ombudsman an adequate explanation, as Ms. McGinty has said repeatedly.
There are no proposed rules applying to any of these agencies describing how they could possibly be expediting processes or relaxing enforcement. Those are to me the two elements of an ombudsman. Neither one is ever elucidated.
Today there was some testimony from the Honorable Congressman from Pennsylvania that in the Northeast there is a need for this program because our rivers are deteriorating. Well, the truth of the matter is that in the State of New York the Hudson River, which will be considered, including the Champlain Valley all the way to the Montreal border (if you want to go into the Jeffords plan), the Hudson River Valley was once very heavily farmed and industrialized. The shores were punctuated by wharves and all sorts of industries, but now it's grown up in forests, and it certainly doesn't need to be restored to any kind of a natural heritage that's maybe pre-colonial. It's really changed quite a lot in the recent 50 years.
Another remark was made that the myriad of local planning departments in states like Pennsylvaniaand New York which is a very similar state in its governmental structure-aren't "professional"; local government isn't "professional" enough. Well, we have very professional planners in New York, and where we don't have them on staff as government-appointed officials, were required to hire them as very expensive consultants. So we really are very adequately professionalized in our government, even dismayingly so.
The heart of each application for designation is a very elaborately stated planning plan for the future of the entire river and the land along it. That's the point of concern. The confusing description of the program seems to denote some kind of a plan to coordinate a number of important, powerful Federal agencies under a new national commission established for the purposes of the program at each designated river, in order to meet a plan of action to protect the river, which is nebulously defined as a "community", and apparently this is being worked out in conjunction with the Federal Government to define this community and this plan.
Now a federally appointed "riverkeeper," as you know, for each American Heritage River coordinates with the community and all of these Federal agencies. It seems to me that a plan, judging by how planning takes place in this nation these days, a plan for each river is presumably one that will further restrict the use of land and water to protect nature and someone's idea of historical importance.
Now this new body, the American Heritage Rivers Interagency Committee, includes the heads of 12 agencies, as you know, from the Defense Department to the National Endowment for the Humanities. The primary agenciesthe Environmental Protection Agency, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Corps of Engineersare ones that are historically trampling on private property rights. So it seems to me that this program of more efficient coordination of Federal enforcement agencies sounds like a juggernautthe opposite of an ombudsman.
In my estimation, the practical meaning and future of the American Heritage Rivers program is to likely pan out something like this: The planning process will be led by Federal agencies and preservation groups which are hostile to private property rights and will be dominated by professionals, environmentalists, economic development types who are experts in the government gravy train who will go the rounds in each river area. Over the years, even 5 to 20 years, of quasi-voluntary partnership programs and mandatory programs of varying nature around the U.S.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. Mrs. LaGrasse, would you be able to
Ms. LAGRASSE. Oh, I'm sorry, I should be done, and I am done. Anyway, it will pan out in that way, with all of these planning programs, and there will be stumbling blocks to local government as responsive to the local populations and problems for private property owners.
I would just like to say that the Property Rights Foundation of America obviously supports your bill, and appreciates your bill, and appreciates the opportunity to testify today.
Mrs. CHENOWETH. And we appreciate your being here, too. Thank you very much.