There's still time to weigh in on the proposed local national heritage area project.

The public comment period for the draft feasibility study for the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area is open until Monday.

Four public meetings, in Astoria, Seaside, Cathlamet, and Ilwaco - cities within the proposed boundary of the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area - recently wrapped up, but residents have until May 3 to submit written comments.

These comments will be incorporated into the final draft of the feasibility study and then it's off to Congress for final authorization, aiming for approval this year.

The Clatsop County Board of Commissioners is expected to sign a letter supporting the local heritage area at Wednesday's board meeting.

"The nuts and bolts of what we're proposing - the heritage investment strategy - we received overall positive comments," said Jay Flint of ShoreBank Enterprise Cascadia, the nonprofit community development institution coordinating the effort.

The bank plans to leverage federal seed money to create an investment fund of up to $15 million for entrepreneurs who are helping preserve the region's heritage. This is based on the idea that communities within Clatsop, Pacific, and Wahkiakum counties share natural resource-based economies, including tourism, fishing, farming, and logging.

This revolving loan fund approach is cutting-edge for national heritage areas, organizers say.

Other heritage areas, traditionally, have been grant-based and focused on promotions that don't generate money back into the program. The National Park Service, which administers these heritage areas, has been seeking a new model to make such areas financially self-sustaining.

If the Columbia-Pacific area is approved, the next major phase for local organizers will be to build an implementation plan. This process would include heavy public involvement and the creation of an advisory board consisting of representatives from all three counties. Federal funds would then become available.

There are 49 national heritage areas around the country. The Columbia-Pacific area would be the first on the West coast. A major part of the criteria for designation would be that this region played a significant and unique role in the story of the nation.

"In terms of the West Coast, this is some of the richest history and some of the longest. You can feel it, and see it in the buildings and industries that are still here," said Flint.

Copies of the Columbia-Pacific National Heritage Area Draft Feasibility Study are available at local libraries and online at (www.nps.gov/lew)i and at (www.columbiapacificnha.org). Comments can be left on the websites.

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