Lawmakers seek federal heritage designation for coasts to promote tourism

By Jeremy Schwartz
Peninsula Daily News

WASHINGTON — Four members of Washington state's congressional delegation — including North Olympic Peninsula native Rep. Derek Kilmer — are sponsoring legislation that would declare most of the state's saltwater shoreline a National Maritime Heritage Area.

The designation, if ultimately approved by Congress, would open the door for local agencies and organizations to apply for federal grants to help coordinate marketing and tourism promotions showcasing the maritime history of the coastal areas.

The legislation would strictly be to promote tourism and economic development, said Allyson Brooks, historic preservations officer with the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation.

It would have no effect on private or public property rights, she said.

“It's not regulatory. There is no regulatory involvement,” Brooks said.

“The legislation does not allow land acquisition; there will not be land acquisition for this at all.”

The heritage area would be the first in the Pacific Northwest and join 49 other areas Congress has designated throughout the nation.

According to a 2013 National Park Service study, heritage areas contribute $12.9 billion annually to the nation's economy.

The Park Service administers the heritage area program on a national level, though heritage areas are not part of the National Park System, according to the Park Service website.

“[The Park Service] is a partner and adviser, leaving decision-making authority in the hands of local people and organizations,” the website says.

Kilmer, a Port Angeles native and Gig Harbor Democrat whose 6th Congressional District includes Clallam and Jefferson counties, and Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, introduced the House bill July 9.

Washington's two U.S. senators, Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, introduced the Senate version the same day.

Both bills have been assigned to their respective committees in the House and Senate, according to www.govtrack.us.

In an interview last week, Kilmer said the communities of the North Olympic Peninsula have particularly been shaped by the state's rich maritime legacy.

“And for me, it's really important we shine a spotlight on that history,” he said.

Tourism promoters from both Clallam and Jefferson counties said they see such a designation as a benefit.

“If the bill works to help the tourism product or folks in the tourism industry to [promote that] we have a maritime industry and [a maritime] history, that's all very positive,” said Russ Veenema, executive director of the Port Angeles Regional Chamber of Commerce.

Said Christina Pivarnik, marketing director for the city of Port Townsend in an email: “This designation has a positive impact for not only tourism, but is important for economic development and will help support our local marine trades as well.

“Port Townsend is surrounded by water, and all of us on the Olympic Peninsula share a connection to the Salish Sea.”

The heritage area would consist of lighthouses, historic vessels, parks and other landmarks located within a quarter-mile of the shoreline in 13 counties: Whatcom, Skagit, Snohomish, San Juan, Island, King, Pierce, Thurston, Mason, Kitsap, Jefferson, Clallam and Grays Harbor counties.

It also would include 19 Native American tribes, 32 cities and 30 port districts.

Kilmer said the bills introduced earlier this month come on the shoulders of the work of numerous community groups that have pushed for such a designation.

“This has been for years a grass-roots effort and made up of people who are very passionate about our maritime history,” Kilmer said.

The legislation would also create locally sourced boards, which would administer any federal grants, Brooks said.

“This is a congressional designation, and you can use this designation to inspire tourists or maritime history buffs to come to the area and learn about our maritime history,” Brooks said.

Said Kilmer: “These are some additional tools in the toolbox for our local communities. It is entirely up to local committees to make decisions for themselves.”

Brooks said the state Legislature asked her department to produce a feasibility study about four years ago that looked at whether the state's maritime history met the Park Service requirements for a National Heritage Area.

The Park Service agreed that Washington's maritime history met the requirements, Brooks said, making the next step the proposed federal legislation.

Once established, the state Department of Archeology and Historic Preservation would have no role in the heritage area, Brooks said.

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Reporter Jeremy Schwartz can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 5074, or at jschwartz@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: July 21. 2014 9:36AM
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