REPOSTED WITH PERMISSION OF THE AUTHOR
District 8 Director, Montana Farm Bureau Federation
Proposed heritage area poses threat to private land ownership
First of all, I would like to thank President McPherson for the opportunity to take over his column this issue. He has seen the importance of our fight in the matter of the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area (BSCNHA) and volunteered his space so I can share my knowledge about this disturbing topic.
As a landowner in Chouteau and Cascade counties, I am strongly opposed to the designation of the Big Sky Country National Heritage Area. The BSCNHA is a push by a small nonprofit of the same name to have all of Cascade and part of Chouteau counties designated as a heritage area to increase tourism by the development of projects and programs that highlight our heritage. A heritage area is overseen by the National Park Service and the Secretary of Interior. It is designated by Congress and would include privately owned land, both urban and rural. Congress can change what is included in the heritage area, potentially including the entire state. The board that controls the heritage area is self-appointed, and as landowners, we would have no recourse to any decisions they make.
The BSCNHA nonprofit organization has produced a feasibility study that will soon be sent to the National Park Service for approval and then on to Congress. The study claims to have had many public meetings and tremendous community support. Until recently, however, it seems very few members of the public had any knowledge of this study. As for support, the commissioners in both counties passed motions of non-support. The Montana Farm Bureau, and most of the other agriculture organizations in the state, have policy opposing it, as well. The towns of Belt and Cascade have opposed the designation. In Great Falls, the Great Falls Realtors and Great Falls Homebuilders Associations are in opposition.
I have met with the BSCNHA executive board and tried to suggest ways that they and those opposed could work together to achieve their goals without our fear of infringing on our property rights. During the meeting I even suggested that they just continue to raise money in their nonprofit and simply drop the federal designation. I even offered a donation if they would take my suggestion. However, after meeting with the board, it is clear that they want the federal money and don’t want to give up the power they would have under this designation. In addition, their proposed budget after five years would only apply 33 percent of the funds to projects. The remaining budget would be divided between directors’ compensation, operations, travel and promotion. Sounds like a pretty sweet deal for the directors.
What’s blatantly obvious is that there is already so much in place in Cascade and Chouteau counties to protect our history and heritage including the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center, the C.M. Russell museum, the First Peoples Buffalo Jump State Park, as well as several good museums in Fort Benton. Did you know that there are already 55 state parks and nine National Park Service areas in Montana? As for money, there are already government grants available for working with additional historic sites.
My main reasons for opposing this designation are as follows:
1. The fear of the unknown.
2. The potential threat to our property rights
3. The self-appointed board with no recourse for land owners
4. The poor use of our taxpayer dollars
Time is of the essence and it’s critical that we flood the National Park Service and our members of Congress with letters and emails. Please go to the Montana Farm Bureau website (www.mfbf.org) and use the Voter Voice tab to send a pre-written letter or better, yet, write one of your own.
This BSCNHA group wants to share the heritage of Montana with others, but in doing so they threaten the heritage of the property owners of the state.
This guest editorial was reposted with permission from the author