Commission nixes World Heritage Site designation for White Sands.
The Otero County Commission on Thursday unanimously rejected a proposal to list White Sands National Monument as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, backed by a room full of residents who opposed the designation and armed with a petition signed by 1,200 people against the move, the Alamogordo Daily News reported.
The vote came despite a plea by Cliff Spencer, superintendent of the national monument, to reconsider their opposition, the Daily News said.
"Why is Otero County in opposition to something the state of New Mexico is in favor of?" Spencer asked commissioners. "This is not a vehicle for jurisdiction or collateral on the world debt. The Congressional Research Service, that did the impartial report, does not own a dog in this fight. If that is good enough for Congress, it should be good enough for you."
A copy of the Congressional Research Service report on the World Heritage Convention and U.S. national parks can be found here (pdf download).
Commission Chairman Doug Moore, after chastising the crowd who greeted Spencer's remarks with laughter, told Spencer, "I think you guys are doing a great job out there … And I don't think you need any help from the U.N. That may be helpful in some places and circumstances, but I don't think it is here."
Moore told Spencer it was the county's intention to have White Sands taken off the list of areas being proposed as a World Heritage Site, the Daily News reported.
Spencer replied that the process for public input into the proposal hadn't come up yet, but would be part of that process, the paper said.
"What we are going to submit, along with our opposition, is the opposition from the citizens of Otero County," Commissioner Clarissa McGinn told Spencer.
Spencer said he feels there is still a need for regularly scheduled public meetings between the national monument and the public for what he called "a neutral understanding on issues relevant to WSNM," the Daily News reported.
"I think that is an excellent idea," Moore told Spencer.
A resident who presented the commission with a petition bearing 1,200 signatures gathered over the past 16 days opposing the designation told the commission, "Let us remember history … Reagan got us out of the U.N. and it was the Bush administration that put us back."
"We have a very large basin with an enormous underground water supply," Maude Rathgeber told commissioners. "That is something that could be brought to the surface in the future and no one should have the right to the water except us."
Rathgeber said she was also concerned about a potential impact from such a designation on environmental concerns, including a possible restriction on flight in the area, the Daily News reported.
Another resident, Ken Nicholson, said, however, that the World Heritage Committee simply lists sites — "That's all they do," he said — and he called the commission a "done deal" and a "farce," the Daily News said.
"I don't think this county deserves any designation as a World Heritage Site," Nicholson said.
10:40am — Otero Co. May Fight UN Listing for White Sands: Monument superintendent says concerns come from "witch-hunting element.
A draft resolution expressing "disappointment and disagreement" with the proposed United Nations designation of White Sands National Monument as a World Heritage Site is expected to be hotly debated at a meeting of the Otero County Commission at 6 p.m. today, the Alamogordo Daily News reported.
The draft resolution says the county will oppose any UN World Heritage Site designation for White Sands "until such time as the National Park Service, the staff of White Sands National Monument and any other persons necessarily appear before the (commission) … to fully disclose the effects of the designation, and any limitations that may occur to private and public interests to the citizens of Otero County," the Daily News reported.
County Administrator Martin Moore noted in an agenda report on the draft resolution that no effort had been made by White Sands National Monument leadership to provide a full account of the anticipated effects of the proposed designation, the paper said.
Moore also said in the report that the designation of Yellowstone National Park as a World Heritage Site in 1978 "led to significant increased scrutiny and limitation on the private citizens and landowners around the National Park" as well as to a proposal to create an 18-million-acre buffer zone around the park that would include both public and private land, the Daily News said.
"The management of Yellowstone remains entirely in the hands of the U.S. Parks Service and the U.S. Department of the Interior," Yellowstone National Park spokesman Al Nash told the Daily News on Wednesday.
There is an 18-million acre buffer zone around the park that is overseen by several government agencies, but the United Nations has no say in the administration of Yellowstone or the "Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem," Nash told the paper.
Officials at the White Sands National Monument also told the Daily News they objected to some of the arguments being put forward by opponents of the designation and to the tone of the debate.
"With regards to this issue, I think there is an obvious witch-hunting element in Otero County," White Sands Superintendent Cliff Spencer told the paper in an interview Wednesday.
"I have watched this grow to the point where there have been some personal, nasty attacks on some politicians. This has really gotten out of hand. These are nothing more than wild conspiracy theories without any basis in fact," Spencer told the Daily News.
Spencer told the paper that he recently supplied the county with reports about the World Heritage Site designation done by the Congressional Research Service, whose researchers provide nonpartisan analysis to members of the House and Senate.
"The reality is that there is nothing evil or negatively consequential about the World Heritage Site designation," Spencer said.