By BOB PALMER
“People living in the potential Heritage area in Louisiana have been particularly vociferous in opposition to the proposal, and it seems they have not given fair consideration to the possible benefits,” Gohmert said in a written statement. “As a result, both Louisiana’s U.S. Senator Bill Cassidy, R-LA, and U.S. Representative Mike Johnson, R-LA, are pulling their effort to examine further the possible benefits.”
A leader of the opposition expressed satisfaction with the results.
“We’re very pleased with it,” Danny McCormack said Wednesday morning. “We’re pleased the people voiced their opinion very loudly. We’re very pleased our representatives listened to us. This is the way the American system is supposed to work.”
Gary Endsley, general manager of Collins Academy, lead the effort to explain the National Heritage Area.
“Of course, we are disappointed,” Endsley said in a prepared statement. “Richard Collins and the staff of Collins Academy have worked very hard to promote this region and try to bring opportunities to our community to help with economic and tourism development. It benefits all of us.”
“We held a series of public town hall type meetings to inform the public of the potential benefits of having an NHA designation in the bi-state region and dispel a great deal of misinformation put out on social media regarding what the designation would and could not do,” Endlsey said. “I think the timing of the release of the bill was possibly ill-conceived in that the public had little or no information in advance of the bill being rolled out, and frankly, as our public meetings showed, there was a great deal of governmental mistrust.
“This is unfortunate. Due to the mistrust of some very vocal individuals, we all have lost out on an opportunity that would have benefitted the region,” Endsley asserted. “No one wins in a situation like this, and it is my hope that if people will actually read the bill, they will realize that the benefits far outweigh the suspicion and that the elected officials will bring it up again for consideration in a timely manner, and in a manner that will better address individual concerns.”
Gohmert expressed similar regrets.
“We had continued to work on language that would have further ensured that the federal government could never use the Heritage Area designation to do anything the actual landowners, private and public, did not want done,” Gohmert said. “We also were going to cut the size of the proposed area significantly and only include land that the owners wanted in the Heritage Area.
“However, Sen. Cassidy and Rep. Johnson’s withdrawal from any effort to pursue financial benefits to what would have been the Caddo Lake National Heritage Area occludes any further inquiry into this matter,” Gohmert stated. “Since Louisiana had more land that would have been included in the potential Heritage Area and they are withdrawing, it does not make sense for us to pursue it.”
Although Endsley said at the Collins Academy informational meetings the effort to develop tourism and other benefits of the NHA would continue even if the proposed bill failed, Gohmert left only a small door open.
“This matter will be closed,” Gohmert declared, “until or unless the people I represent who would be affected tell me that they want the issue of a National Heritage Area designation pursued again.”
McCormack hoped the lines of communication would remain open.
“We need to ask our representatives to listen to us about more traditional business like a mill to process our pine logs or oil refineries and things like that,” McCormack said. “It’s more traditional industries we would like to see.”
Related: Property Owners in Caddo Lake NHA Footprint Express Doubts That Sank Proposal
Despite four weeks of public information meetings, many people living or owning property in the projected area for the proposed Caddo Lake National Heritage Area expressed reservations and skepticism about HR 5957.
The Jimplecute reached out to Danny McCormack and Kathy Lomax Heard, leaders of the opposition Caddo Lake’s Last Stand, as well as area residents James Runnels and Shirley Shivers to understand the basis for their concerns. The following are their responses to questions from the Jimp.
What prompted you to become active on this issue?
HEARD: I owned property on Caddo Lake and I lived here off and on for 35 years. Anything that affects Caddo Lake affects me. I don’t necessarily want more public involvement here. People love it so much, because it is natural.
MCCORMACK: I had a news release in Caddo Parrish, talking about this. A young man brought it to me. He kept coming back. Once I looked into it I saw where the potential problems were and began to get involved.
RUNNELS: First of all, I saw it on Facebook. I saw the map that was included, and lot people concerned about private property rights.
SHIVERS: I’d seen it on Facebook. My husband was very concerned.
Do you own property in the footprint?
HEARD: My husband owns property on Caddo Lake since the 1970s.
MCCORMACK: I have timber lands and oil wells in Louisiana and oil wells in Texas. My home is also in it. Just about everything I have is in it.
RUNNELS: The family property includes four timber tracts and a lake house on Caddo. We also own one end of the ruins of the old Tuscumbia Bridge. Tuscumbia was a town on the Harrison County side of Little Cypress. The bridge ceased to be used back in the 40s. There’s nothing left anymore, a few concrete pilings, timbers collapsed on the bank.
SHIVERS: We do. We have 80 acres on FM 134 between Karnak and Lee.
Are you worried burdensome regulations will come with a National Heritage Area?
HEARD: I am concerned about changes that may come about incidental to the actual CLNHA commission itself. What county or city regulations may be passed to facilitate the goal of CLNHA? I am not opposed tourism or those who want to make money from tourism. I just don’t want to be included. I don’t want it here (shore of Caddo Lake).
MCCORMACK: I am mainly worried about the money that comes to special interest groups can influence local officials who can interfere with private property rights. They encourage communities to make ordinances. It’s part of the plan. In some heritage areas, communities have adopted view scape ordinances that limit construction, limit timber harvesting so the view of the historical object is not harmed.
RUNNELS: You know from the presentation it sounded like a way to promote tourism. It’s the way it was rolled out that concerned me. I’m always concerned about private property rights.
SHIVERS: I haven’t done enough research to know. I would like to know where the other NHAs are. I’m a native Harrison Countian. This sounds interesting. I’m sure nothing happened on our property ever, except once it was in cotton production.
Do you feel you have been fully informed about the limits and goals of CLNHA?
MCCORMACK: Yes, I am more informed. We’ve done extensive research. We have four or five people doing research.
RUNNELS: I think I want to know more. Who is going to have the final say? It seems a little gray on how these commissioners will be elected or appointed. They say no property will be taken. I think I need to study the bill.
SHIVERS: No, because I have not done any more research. I’d like to visit with others who live in one of these to find out if that has been the result.
Are you opposed?
HEARD: I am opposed. The number one thing that concerns me, most of the citizens who live in the footprint were aware that this legislation was intended to be presented. A few may have known JI and CA were doing feasibility study. I don’t believe people knew the intent of the survey questions.
I can understand why people are skeptical about this. They think there is a cover up of some kind. Full disclosure, honesty is the best policy.
I have urged Rep. Gohmert to hold some meetings in this area. This affects not just CL land, huge area.
MCCORMACK: Yes, I am opposed.
RUNNELS: Right now, I’m neutral. It’s early in the game. I’d like to hear from my Congressman. I think it would have been better if they had talked to civic groups. The way they went about it is what I think what brought all the red flags up. I’d like to know who is pushing the buttons. Sounds great on paper. Just the way they went about it. Really kind of embarrassing, if you ask me.
SHIVERS: Neither way. I need more information.