Museums, historic ship owners, and preservationists in Washington State have called on the state’s congressional delegation to support a bill that could lead to a special maritime heritage area covering the coast and Puget Sound. Thirty-two members of the House–21 Democrats and 11 Republicans–are co-sponsoring HR 445, the National Heritage Area Act of 2013. The bill would authorize a National Heritage Area Program, which may include a new Maritime Washington National Heritage Area celebrating the maritime history of the state. None of the bill’s co-sponsors are from Washington State.
National Heritage Areas are designated by Congress to highlight the historical importance of specific geographic locations in the U.S. Although 39 National Heritage Areas already exist, HR 445 would formally define heritage areas and set out a formal process for creating one. The areas are administered by the National Park Service; most are located east of the Mississippi River. A similar proposal to create a heritage area near the mouth of the Columbia River died after local property owners argued the law might infringe on their property rights.
The bill is assigned to the House Committee on Natural Resources, which is chaired by Rep. Doc Hastings of Washington’s 4th District. The conservative Republican has a reputation for hostility toward measures that extend government authority or influence over private property.
The call this month by the Pacific Northwest Maritime Heritage Council is the second this year. In May, the organization asked the state’s heritage organizations to send letters to Congress endorsing HR 445. As well as recognizing history, supporters believe national heritage areas encourage the development of heritage tourism, especially in smaller communities.
The PNMHC statement also called on Washington Governor Jay Inslee and the state legislature to create a state version of the proposed national heritage area. “The hope is that building support at the state level for the proposal will add the state’s voice to the call for national designation,” according to a news release.