WASHINGTON — Language was written Thursday into a U.S. Senate appropriations bill to boost the prospects of Louisiana’s Poverty Point State Historic Site making it to the World Heritage List with other such famous sites as the Taj Mahal, Stonehenge and the Grand Canyon.
Sen. Mary Landrieu, D-La., said she hopes the language could get around problems with Poverty Point’s nomination created by Middle East politics.
Back in 2011, the U.S. cut funding to UNESCO after Palestine was allowed to join the organization. Congress has banned U.S. funding to U.N. bodies that recognize Palestine as a state before an Israeli-Palestinian peace deal is reached.
Consequently, the U.S. has not paid dues to the World Heritage Centre in Paris that is run by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, more commonly known as UNESCO.
Landrieu successfully inserted narrowly tailored language into the appropriations bill that added $700,000 only to the World Heritage Program to keep Poverty Point’s nomination from being unfairly punished. The amendment is in the state, foreign operations and related programs appropriations bill approved Thursday by the Senate Appropriations Committee.
“Poverty Point is a historical treasure for Louisiana and our entire country, and this special place deserves to be protected and preserved as a World Heritage site,” Landrieu said after the committee meeting.
“By giving Poverty Point the recognition it deserves, it will no doubt bring increased tourism to the region, helping to lift up the local economy.”
The world list includes 962 sites in 157 countries, but only 21 in the U.S.
Poverty Point’s ancient Native American mounds were built more than 3,000 years ago around 1500 B.C. or even before that.
It would take about 50 versions of Stonehenge put together to recreate the size of the Poverty Point mounds, according to T.R. Kidder, a Washington University in St. Louis archaeologist and anthropologist who has extensively studied the northeastern Louisiana site.
The Poverty Point site consists of six enormous, concentric earthen ridges with an outer diameter of more than a half mile, and several large mounds, including one of the largest in North America, according to the U.S. Interior Department. This constructed landscape was the largest and most elaborate of its time on the continent. The particular form of the complex is not duplicated anywhere else in the world.
Lt. Gov. Jay Dardenne said Thursday’s progress gives Poverty Point a critical path forward that should prove “narrowly tailored” enough to avoid stirring up geopolitical debates about the Middle East.
Dardenne said the concern is that U.S. nominations could be rejected unless the nation is paying its dues to the program. “It was her (Landrieu’s) understanding the U.S. sites wouldn’t be considered at all absent some sort of funding,” Dardenne said.
The House version of the funding bill does not yet contain any such funding,La but Rep. Rodney Alexander, R-Quitman, who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, is working on the issue in that chamber.
Dardenne said Poverty Point’s inscription would mean potentially huge economic development and global tourism benefits in northeastern Louisiana. He said an economic study is being finalized to project the benefits.
Dardenne compared the potential boosts to northeastern Louisiana to the inclusion of the relatively remote Chaco Culture National Historic Park in New Mexico on the World Heritage List.
“They saw a very dramatic increase in their visitation,” he said.
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