To the editor:
Dyke Hendrickson's March 27 article in The Daily News stated, "A builder from Gloucester talked about the Essex National Heritage Commission, which had no discernible connection to the proposed LHD in Newburyport." The link between the two is real and potentially quite dangerous.
The Essex National Heritage Area (ENHA) was designated by the Congress in 1996 to recognize the region's historical, cultural and natural resources. The ENHA boundaries are defined by a map that delineates much, but significantly not all, of Essex County. The Essex National Heritage Commission (ENHC) is the nonprofit management entity for the ENHA and coordinates with the National Park Service (NPS) to promote public/private partnerships.
In March 2011, Essex Heritage completed a Corridor Management Plan (CMP) for the Essex Coastal Scenic Byway (ECSB). The National Scenic Byways Program funded $450,000 of the study. One end of the ECSB starts at Atkinson Common, the same start or end point as the proposed LHD, and the route follows the High Street corridor — the primary focus of the LHD. The CMP is the first step toward the designation of the ECSB as a National Scenic Byway (NSB).
If Newburyport residents are questioning the potential of the LHD to take away private property rights, the threat of designation of the route as a NSB would allow the ENHC/NPS to become potential groups aggrieved within the framework of the LHD. This would represent a threat to property rights and potential new land use controls. Presently, the Salem Maritime National Historic Site (SMNHS) and the ENHC are proposing a study to expand the SMNHS boundaries. Both agencies have been extremely secretive about their ambitions. If funded, it's likely that there will be land use controls on waterfront properties in Beverly and Salem, with the NPS using federal powers and/or forced "cooperative agreements" to achieve their (NPS and ENHC) goals.
The Local Historic District Study Committee (LHDSC) has clear connections to the ENHC. On the LHD website is an article on High Street co-written by ENHC Director of Heritage Development William Steelman. The LHD chairman, when questioned regarding the economic benefits of the proposed LHD ,stated that "there are economic benefits to the proposed LHD ... , heritage tourism rakes in billions of dollars a year." Heritage tourism economic benefits for the ENHA cannot be quantified accurately. The NPS uses online "visits" as visits to the park. This number is then used in a formula to calculate regional "economic benefit," which cannot be verified. The ENHC would like everyone to believe that their involvement in this LHD effort will result in "billions of dollars" of benefit. It is just not the case.
Presently before the Senate and House is a bill requesting $10 million of extended funding (to 2027) for the ENHA. From 1997 to 2012, the ENHC received $12 million in NPS funds. The goal of Heritage Area (HA) legislation was for ENHC to become self-sufficient. The ENHC, considered a "successful" HA, remains reliant on NPS funds to survive.
In closing, I find there is a significant connection between Newburyport's proposed LHD, the ENHC and the NPS to further limit our property rights. When the LHD is coupled with the ENHC's CMP, with the potential of NSB designation, property rights will be lost. Therefore, I encourage city councilors to vote against this LHD.
Robert T. Leavens