WASHINGTON, D.C. - U.S. Reps. Brian Baird and David Wu reintroduced legislation last Thursday that would pave the way for the proposed new Columbia River National Heritage Area.

The Heritage Area program, created by the National Park Service, recognizes a region's distinct historical and cultural significance. Twenty-seven of the areas have been established since the program was established in the 1980s. Heritage areas are administered by local boards and eligible for federal funding of up to $1 million a year.

"By designating areas at the mouth of the Columbia River as a National Heritage Area, millions of federal dollars will be available to promote tourism in the region, create jobs, and strengthen our local economy," Baird said. "This region is both historically and culturally significant, and through this designation, we can ensure this area is preserved for generations to come. I thank Senator Smith and Congressman Wu for their leadership on this issue, and I look forward to working with them on passage of this bill."

Baird, whose district includes Pacific County, and Wu, congressman for northwestern Oregon including Astoria, introduced similar legislation last year, but the bill was never approved. The bill would fund a feasibility study, the first step in the creation of the heritage area, which would likely stretch from Cannon Beach to the northend of the Long Beach Peninsula and upriver to Skamokawa.

"The mouth of the Columbia River presents layers of history and culture like an ancient buried city, except that it rolls on today," said Wu. "This bill is another necessary step to preserve and celebrate the history that shaped this part of our great nation."

Oregon U.S. Sen. Gordon Smith is working with Washington Sen. Patty Murray to bring a companion bill to the Senate, with sponsorship from Sen. Maria Cantwell and Oregon's other senator, Ron Wyden.

During a hearing last year of the House Resources Committee's Subcommittee on National Parks, the National Park Service testified and expressed their support for this legislation.

Once the feasibility study is complete, the lawmakers will introduce new legislation to officially designate the land as a National Heritage Area. After the designation passes the House and Senate and is signed into law, local and regional stakeholders must develop a management plan for the area. The Secretary of the Interior will then approve the management plan, making the National Heritage Area eligible for $10 million over 15 years. The National Park Service will oversee the Heritage Area.

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