Gage County Planning Commission opposes National Heritage Area concept

BEATRICE – The Gage County Planning Commission has passed a resolution recommending Gage County oppose being involved in establishment of a National Heritage Area Partnership.  The commission vote of 6-0 follows a recent decision of Thayer County to take a similar position.

Gage County Planning Commission member Terry Acton recently sounded alarm bells about NHAs.
"It started out probably as a good idea and probably still is a good idea for some of these areas. NHA's have gotten hijacked by entities, coordinating entities, by board members that have ulterior motives other than preserving cultural, historic sites. And, their main one is they're radical environmentalists who are against animal agriculture. You can't Google this and find this unless you start to talk to people who are currently researching this and going back and looking at who's came off of a board that was environmentally radical...and find out what position they are in this administration, today."

Acton is concerned about National Environmental Policy Act involvement in management of areas.  "They are going to come and look to see if you have  wetlands or if you have any endangered species. If you have any endangered species in there, they're going to tell you how to manage that, and that NHA, as well."  Acton added, “I don’t think you want to embrace an NHA in Gage County.”

The planning commission invited Homestead National Historical Park Superintendent Mark Engler to explain National Heritage Area designations. He said NHAs have been around since about 2017….a partnership between government and mainly non-profit private entities to preserve history and culture of designated areas and build a stronger economy. Engler said they are not owned by the federal government.

"National Heritage Areas do not infringe on personal property rights. They are not units of the National Park Service."

Engler said NHA’s do not prohibit private property owners from building things like fences or other structures.  "National Heritages do not provide for federal acquisition of land. National Heritage Areas do not abridge rights of any property owner, require any property owner to permit public access to the property, alter any land use regulations, or diminish the authority of a state to manage fish and wildlife...including regulations of fishing and hunting within National Heritage Areas."

Engler said the heritage areas were established to tell a story of a region and to commemorate, conserve and promote natural, scenic or cultural resources…using a partnership between government and private organizations. Each is managed by a separate board….often a non-profit, but can involve state government and includes both public and private funding support.

Business opportunities can result, for example, in the area of tourism. Engler said they are established by Congress, upon a request of citizens…based on a set of ten criteria.  National Heritage Areas have a funding period of fifteen years before they must be reauthorized.

In other action Tuesday night, the Gage County Planning Commission recommended approval of a special use permit for a temporary asphalt and concrete plant near Odell. The application for the permit was filed by Werner Construction, for a facility that would be used in conjunction with a highway project in the Barneston area, this year.

The commission recommendation now goes before the Gage County Board of consideration, on June 16th.

The temporary plant would be located about three miles southeast of Odell. Access to the site would be along Southwest 18th Road…which is a county road. Walnut Road, which lines the south edge of the site, is a township road.  There was no public input given in favor or opposition to the permit application, at a Tuesday night hearing. The commission’s vote recommending approval of the permit, was 6-0 with one member absent.