JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former Jacksonville Sheriff and Congressman John Rutherford (R-FL) testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands in support of H.R. 2107, the Nation’s Oldest Port National Heritage Area Act, which was reintroduced by Rutherford earlier this year.
This legislation would designate portions of Nassau, Duval, St. Johns, and Flagler Counties as a National Heritage Area (NHA). NHAs, which are designated by Congress and protected by the National Park Service, recognize natural, cultural and historic landscapes and help celebrate the nation’s diverse heritage.
“I greatly appreciated the opportunity to testify before the House Natural Resources Committee to discuss my bill to protect Northeast Florida’s important history and culture,” said Rep. Rutherford in a media release. “I am optimistic the Committee will soon take a vote on H.R. 2107 and send it to the House floor for final consideration.”
Rutherford has been pushing for the legislation along with Kathy Fleming, Executive Director of the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Maritime Museum. Fleming told News4Jax there is bipartisan support for the bill.
“Our unique culture here in the First Coast region is really significant in terms of its maritime history and its cultural uniqueness and its specialness to America,” Fleming said.
According to Rutherford, NHAs provide a significant positive impact on the local economies in which they reside. A 2012 study by the Alliance of National Heritage Areas and the National Park Service showed NHAs contribute nearly $13 billion annually to the national economy and support 148,000 jobs. There are 55 designated National Heritage Areas in 34 states across the country.
“We’ve been working on it since 2007,” Fleming said. “We’ve done a feasibility study. We have hundreds of letters of support from municipalities, cities, counties, individual people. We’ve given hundreds of lectures. It’s taken a long time.”
The bill still has to move through a series of hearings in the coming months but Fleming hopes her push is successful.