Commissioners Vote Resolution Opposing NHA Designation for S.E. CO


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The Prowers County Commissioners approved a resolution opposing the National Heritage Area Designation proposed for southeast Colorado.  The unanimous vote was cast this past Tuesday, May 13, as the commissioners held their regular meeting at the Senior Citizen’s Center in Holly.  A number of landowners were on hand for this particular part of the agenda to voice their opposition to a heritage based conservation, preservation and compatible economic development plan.  The study was proposed by such organizations as Canyons and Plains of Southeast Colorado, National Park Service, the Nature Conservancy, Palmer Land Trust and Rocky Mountain Bird Observatory and would have covered eight southeast Colorado counties, including Prowers.  While the commissioners stated they had supported past projects of Canyons and Plains, the National Heritage Area entailed too much of a blanket authority which could infringe on private property rights and would be administered by non-elected officials as the management authority.

The broad-based group of property owners, from Baca and Prowers County, felt they would have no voice in how they conducted their own affairs on their own property, which they saw being overtaken by non-elected officials.  They believed there was no clear cut purpose developed for the study and the plans would eventually infringe on their property rights.  Some land owners have already been bitten twice by state and local authorities, through conservation easement issues which saw designated land values reduced to zero with few, if any, legal recourses, except for protracted and expensive court battles against the state of Colorado and IRS.  Other land owners have seen their property encroached upon by the Pinon Canyon Military Maneuver project, an issue that has yet to be finally played out.

Rick Manzanares, Executive Director for Canyons and Plains, was the lone voice against the resolution, asking for a postponement of the commissioner’s vote until more information could be presented that would explain some of the purposes of the Heritage Plan in greater degree.  Manzanares stated that the NHA would not infringe on private property rights and had no plans to acquire private property or water rights or have any influence on local zoning and planning regulations.  He added that a government accounting office study from 2004 concluded that the 24 NHA’s approved up to that point did not infringe on private property rights.  Manzanares said that Canyons and Plains, developed in 2003, had no other purpose than to bring economic prosperity and development to southeast Colorado through heritage tourism.  Manzanares stated, “Making broad sweeping conclusions about the organization’s intensions after such a long history of service does a major disservice to the benefits of its projects to the region.”  He said public information meetings are being planned in the next few months in the 6.5 counties in southeast Colorado to explain how the feasibility study would be used to determine if some sections of the region would fall under the NHA designation.  He said that study has not yet begun.

About ten property owners spoke before the commissioners opposing the NHA project.  Diana Tixier submitted a petition of 231 signatures in opposition to the study.  Kimee Lewis stated that this action would open the door for an eventual federal takeover of private properties as seen in the Pinon Canon situation in southeast and south central Colorado.  Doug Melcher, said the Colorado Corn Growers Association was opposed to the NHA as it was too much blanket coverage of property and he hadn’t seen a lot of tourism improvements underway.  Jillane Hixson said she believed the issue was more of land control than land ownership and the public should learn the lessons that have come from the conservation easement debacle.  She said that facts on the NHA should be available now.  Belinda Groner spoke in opposition to the NHA stating she saw no local oversight on how the land would be managed and wanted to know how the ongoing studies would be funded.  Several other citizens voiced their opposition before the commissioners took their vote, the resolution  stating in part, that they believed that property owners, “Are concerned that the National Heritage Area Designation and similar initiatives will unlawfully deprive private landowners of their constitutional right to use and enjoy their property.”

By Russ Baldwin

Filed Under: AgricultureBusinessCommissionerscommunityCountyEconomyFeaturedGranadaHistoryHollyHot TopicsLamarPoliticsProwers CountyTourismWiley


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