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More than 320 people, including several of the area’s county commissioners and a state representative, turned out for the public meeting hosted by the Ozarks Property Rights Congress in Mountain View on March 3.
The meeting was to inform the public about the proposed establishment of a 13-county area to be known as The Ozarks Highlands National Heritage Area.
Ray Cunio, of Sullivan, emcee for the event, gave a quick background history of other attempts to establish federal programs in this region of the Ozarks and laid the rules of conduct for the meeting.
Several proponents for the establishment of the National Park Service program gave their opinions on the proposed Heritage Area. Kris Norman, of Ozarks Preservation Inc. stated several times, “This is a business opportunity.” Lou Wehmer, of the Willow Springs Development Corporation said, “I don’t have a dog in this fight,” but indicated that he is supportive of the Heritage Area designation as a potential economic benefit.
Matt Meacham, who is one of two individuals on salary to bring the Heritage Area into being, spoke next. He moved to the area in 2007 and said he has been working on the Ozarks Highlands National Heritage area for four years.
Meacham has also worked with Missouri State University and the West Plains Art Council. He indicated that he spoke with officials from several different Heritage Areas and none of them indicated that there had been infringements on private property owners in their Heritage Areas.
Colin Collins, past CEO of Ozarks Medical Center and a founding member of Air Evac, spoke for the Heritage Area, dressed in bib overalls and a plaid shirt. He spoke about how his ancestors came to the Ozarks to “get away from the government.” Collins, whose brother Mark Collins is a Howell County Commissioner, was the proponent who spoke the most to the crowded room. He assured the audience that the National Park Service would not have control of the Heritage Area.
The opponents of the Heritage area who spoke were Doreen Hannes and Bob Parker, both of Texas County.
Hannes began: “I love the Ozarks. A very wise man once said there are two kinds of people. Those who want to be left alone, and those who won’t leave them alone. In the Ozarks, most of us just want to be left alone.”
She went on to cite heavily from the “National Park Service Second Century Commission Report” about the function of the NPS in Heritage Areas. She read from the document that the Heritage Area is indeed under the NPS which requests the “management entity” to establish European Spatial Planning “CEMAT” standards.
The audience applauded Hannes several times during her segment. At one point, she stated, “Due to the custom and culture of this area, it’s not feasible to establish a Heritage Area here.”
Parker, of Raymondville, cited extensively from the Heritage Area Feasibility draft that preceded the final Feasibility Study. In that draft, the group seeking the Heritage Area designation had included the financial information regarding the building of an “Interpretive Center.” Parker stated, “This building would be a nearly 5.2 million dollar building, built with $2.6 million federal funds and $2.5 million in state matching funds.” He said that the estimates for operating this Center were $500,000 per year after the building is built and $250,000 per year prior to the building’s construction. He continued: “Even though proponents say this won’t cost you anything, the study that they did proves that there is even more of a cost than the $200,000-plus dollars in public funds that they’ve already spent.”
Parker is well known in the area for his stands on financial accountability and the audience applauded Parker’s statements with enthusiasm.
The meeting closed after a lengthy question and answer segment, during which many of the audience expressed their opinions. Near the end of the event, when roughly 300 people were still in the audience, Cunio asked for a show of hands from attendees in support of the Heritage Area designation. Including the five people who came to address the crowd and answer questions about the proposal, 10 in the room were for the Heritage Area. The other 290 were assumed to be against it.
There is an open comment period for residents to express their thoughts on the proposed Ozark Highlands National Heritage Area. You may send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also, the Ozarks PRC asks that you send your comments to your U.S. Senators and Congresswoman Jo Ann Emerson. The deadline for comments to Meacham through the West Plains Council on the Arts is March 18.
(The preceding article was submitted to the Herald by Russell Wood, president of the Ozarks Property Rights Congress.)