This was a vote on final passage of H.R. 324, a bill that designated the Santa Cruz Valley region of southern Arizona as a national heritage area. National heritage areas are regions of historical and cultural significance that are given this particular designation to encourage their historic preservation and to promote their public appreciation. The Santa Cruz Valley is one of America's longest inhabited regions, with traces of human occupation extending back more than 12,000 years. The designated heritage area included two national parks and two national historic trails, many prehistoric and historic archaeological sites, as well as state and county parks, designated scenic highways back-country trails and 32 museums and 102 buildings listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Rep. Grijalva (D-AZ), one of the sponsors of the bill, said that the designation of the region as a national heritage area “would allow the National Park Service to support existing and future state and local conservation efforts through Federal recognition, seed money, and technical assistance.” He also argued that it “will be a valuable tool to promote economic development and tourism in . . . an area that has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy.”
Rep. Grijalva also noted that the bill “is strongly supported throughout the Santa Cruz Valley. All incorporated local governments have supported it and have given this proposal their formal support. Other supporters include two Native American tribes, chambers of commerce and other civic organizations, the Arizona Office of Tourism and other tourism councils, the Southern Arizona Home Builders Association, conservation groups and developers . . . .”
Rep. Hastings (R-WA) led the opposition to the bill. He first said that “Republicans support the wise and responsible stewardship of Federal lands. We also strongly believe the protection and conservation of natural areas is important.” He then went on to say: “(Y)et it need not be done at the expense of our homeland security or the private property rights of U.S. citizens.”
Hastings noted that “some of the most heavily trafficked drug smuggling and human trafficking routes in the United States would be designated as a national heritage area under this bill. To make matters worse, the bill lacks sufficient protections to ensure that border security enforcement, drug interdiction and illegal immigration control is not restricted, is not hindered, and is not impeded by this legislation . . . It is critical that policies meant to conserve natural areas or to preserve or promote unique areas in our nation do not become corridors for illegal activities that threaten the safety and security of United States citizens.”
Hastings then dealt with the effect of the measure on the property rights of those in the heritage area. He acknowledged that “this legislation does include language that expresses support for property protection.” Hastings then went on to say: “(H)owever, the bill omits stronger protections that have been included in many of the other recently established heritage areas. What should be included in this bill is an assurance that the written consent of property owners be acquired before their property is included into the planning activities of the heritage area's management entities. Property owners should also be permitted the choice to opt out of the heritage area's boundaries if they choose.”
Hastings cautioned that the bill “would allow a basis for ambitious federal land managers to claim that now they have a mandate and millions of federal dollars to interfere with local decisions affecting the private property of others. The reality is that there are likely a great number of property owners who have no idea that they are being included in this heritage area designation. After all we are talking about over 3,300 square miles. This House should insist that the weak and ineffectual provisions of the bill are strengthened with real and meaningful protections that protect all landowners with the choice to opt out of this designation.”
Rep. Rahall (D-WVA), who chairs the Natural Resources Committee, responded to Hastings. Rahall noted that no provision of H.R. 324 “abridges the rights of any property owner (whether public or private), including the right to refrain from participating in any plan, project, program, or activity conducted within the national heritage area.'' He also noted that “(N)ational heritage areas have been around for 25 years . . . Well over 50 million people live, work and recreate in a heritage area . . . and not one of them has been adversely affected. That's because heritage areas have no regulatory powers, no zoning authority, no power of eminent domain.”
The legislation passed by a vote of 281-142. Two hundred and fifty-two Democrats and twenty-nine Republicans voted “aye”. All one hundred and forty-two “nay” votes were cast by Republicans. As a result, the House was passed and sent on to the Senate legislation establishing the Santa Cruz Valley in Arizona as a national heritage area.