MPNHA could lose funds unless Congress acts soon

One of the organizations that has had a major impact on Sanpete County and Central Utah is in danger of losing the funding enabling it to make a difference.

The Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area (MPNHA), originally authorized on Oct. 12, 2006, needs to be extended by Congress by Oct. 12 of this year. But that extension is not yet a sure thing, even though legislation is pending to make it happen.

“When the late Senator Robert F. Bennett introduced the legislation to create the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area, he said it would serve as special recognition to the people and places that have contributed greatly to our nation’s development,’’ says Monte Bona, MPNHA executive director.

“Over the past 15 years, the Mormon Pioneer National Heritage Area has generated $44 million in leveraged funds for our projects and programs—helping us revitalize communities, restore historic buildings and enhance communities along the 400-mile corridor.”

Bona says reauthorizing the MPNHA will generate an estimated $50 million over the next 15 years. In the words of Joyce Bennett, Senator Bennett’s widow, “These funds will help us tell the story of the Mormon pioneers, to instill pride in our communities and motivate people to plan for the future by remembering the past.”

A pair of companion bills have been introduced that would extend authorization of both MPNHA and the Great Basin National Heritage Area in eastern Nevada. The extension acts are sponsored by Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.), Jacky Rosen (D-Nev.) and Mitt Romney (R-Utah); and by Reps. Steven Horsford (D-Nev.) and Chris Stewart (R-Utah).

“The Mormon Pioneer Heritage Area is a great means of sharing, preserving and discovering Utah’s history. I’m proud to work across the aisle and across state lines on this bipartisan legislation that will protect and promote the heritage of both Utah and Nevada,” said Stewart.

So far, Bona says there is no word on whether the companion bills are gaining any traction, but he has high hopes for their success.

Another piece of legislation involving heritage areas is also in the works. That bill aims to reauthorize 30 heritage areas around the country, including the MPNHA, in one fell swoop.

Bona says either the companion bills or the comprehensive bill would authorize continuation and funding for the MPNHA for another 15 years.

According to Bona, the National Heritage Area program is one of the most cost-effective initiatives in the Department of Interior. It takes up less than one percent of the budget of the National Park Service, the agency that supervises the programs.

By keeping administrative expenses low, MPNHA has been able to spend the lion’s share of its funds for local projects, Bona says. Since October 2006, it has received $3,496,205 in federal funds but has used the funds as seed money to help projects totaling $47,698,702 get off the ground.