Greenway National Heritage bills in committee
The Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust is working to have its lands designated as a national heritage area.
Two bills authored by the organization were introduced into and passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate last year, but failed to be conferenced for approval by President Barack Obama before the close of congressional session.
The bills, sponsored by Rep. Dave Reichert and Sen. Maria Cantwell, have been reintroduced in the current session and presently sit in committee. They will need to pass committee, markup, new votes and conference to make it through this session, said Ben Hughey, a policy specialist for Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust.
"But we'll never have progress unless a bunch of people get excited about it at home," Hughey said.
The legislation would designate the greenway as a national heritage area and authorize a local coordinating entity for the area. That entity would develop a plan for preserving the greenway's natural and historical resources and work with federal, state, tribal and local authorities to do so."It will allow us to look at this holistically," Hughey said. "We'll be able to get resources to agencies like the Forest Service that are strapped for cash."
In the Senate version of the bill, Mountains to Sound Greenway Trust would be established as the local coordinating entity. The House version would give the Secretary of the Interior authority to appoint the entity.
Another key difference between the largely similar House and Senate Bills is the designation of federal funding. The Senate bill authorizes 50 percent of federal funding for the heritage area, up to $1 million per year.
The House bill remains silent on the subject of funding, the result of work with then-Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Pasco), the former chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, to get the bill past committee, Hughey said.
Hughey said the history of U.S. expansion into the greenway is tied intimately into the old Pacific Railroad, authorized by the Pacific Railroad Acts in 1862. Landmarks like the North Pacific Depot in Ellensburg and the Snoqualmie Tunnel would potentially receive greater attention and upkeep within a national heritage area.
Issaquah History Museums, which operates the Issaquah Depot Museum from a former railroad depot, has endorsed the bill.
Other supporters include Mayor Fred Butler; city councilors Tola Marts and Nina Milligan; former Mayor Ava Frisinger; state Sen. Mark Mullet; the Snoqualmie Tribe; the Issaquah Environmental Council; Friends of the Issaquah Salmon Hatchery; and the Issaquah Alps Trails Club.