Tuesday, June 28, 2016

HB 2013 Opening State Parks To Private Development In Position For Final House Vote

At noon today, the House Appropriations Committee reported out House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler) which would open Pennsylvania’s State Parks to private development by a vote of 26 to 10.  The bill is now in position for a final House vote TODAY after members return to the Floor, now scheduled for 1:30.
Click Here to watch the debate on the House Floor.  If passed, the bill must still be considered by the Senate.
Related Stories:
PA Parks & Forests Foundation: What State Parks Really Need, Hint: It’s Not Golf Courses & Water Slides

June 28 Chesapeake Bay Journal News Now Available

The June 28 Chesapeake Bay Journal News is now available featuring articles on--
-- Click Here to sign up for your own copy (bottom of the page).

TreeVitalize Pittsburgh Applications Available For Spring 2017 Tree Plantings

The Western PA Conservancy Tuesday announced applications are now available for Spring 2017 Tree Plantings from TreeVitalize Pittsburgh.  Applications are due September 16.
TreeVitalize Pittsburgh supports street, park and riverfront tree plantings by supplying trees and services for locations throughout Pittsburgh and Allegheny County.
Every Pittsburgh neighborhood is eligible to participate in TreeVitalize, and many Allegheny County municipalities are eligible as well.
Please contact Jeffrey Bergman, TreeVitalize director, at 412-586-2396 or send email to: trees@paconserve.org to discuss your planting plan before moving forward with your project.
For more information, an application and instructions, visit the WPC’s TreeVitalize Pittsburgh webpage.
Applications for TreeVitalize grants in other parts of Pennsylvania will soon be available.  Visit DCNR’s TreeVitalize website for more information.

House Bill 2013 Remains A Frontal Assault On Why PA State Parks Are So Successful

This letter was sent to the members of the House and Senate Tuesday morning on behalf of Marci Mowery, President of the Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation and Davitt Woodwell, President of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council in opposition to House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler)--
Dear Members Of The House and Senate,
House Bill 2013 has been amended. Even with that amendment, the bill represents a frontal assault on Pennsylvania’s state park system and the reasons that it has been so successful.
The parks are not broken – they are award-winning, generate over a billion dollars a year in economic activity, and return over $12 for every dollar invested. Those are twenty-first century numbers. Where the parks need help is in funding that the General Assembly has taken away from DCNR over the last ten years, specifically from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenues that were designed for such purposes.
With the amendment, the bill is now, marginally, less bad than it was before. The bill now calls for a study by DCNR to determine potential public private partnerships within the parks and for the agency to act upon that study. However, the language and perceived intent is to push for development and “pilot projects”
What the bill now does is tasks DCNR with performing a study of “additional recreational, lodging, and ancillary facilities” that might be developed “to the benefit of the general public.” This is, perhaps, discussion-worthy, except that the definition of those facilities still focuses on amusement or water parks, outdoor sports facilities (stadiums?), hotels, etc. Further, the bill focuses almost exclusively on additional facilities without considering what is currently in place.
Nowhere in the bill is it suggested that DCNR undertake a study or review of how the parks are working, how they measure up against other state’s systems, or what is really best for the parks and for Pennsylvanians. Nor is there any consideration that the defined uses may well be best located on private lands adjacent to state parks as so many businesses are today.
If the purpose is really to understand the role of the state parks and what development is or is not appropriate in them, then call for DCNR to do a thorough review of the park system, its strengths, challenges, and opportunities, as well as the needs of the people. Such a study would serve everyone well and provide a real basis for consideration of any development of any type in the parks as well as the state of current concessions and leases.
This would also give an opportunity to involve the public in the discussion, something required by the General Assembly in almost every other DCNR action involving state lands. And, .of special concern given ongoing fiscal issues at the state, such a process would daylight any and all fiscal issues related to development.
Considering the array of awards bestowed upon the Department of Conservation of Natural Resources for management and planning, it is easy to argue that our state parks are not only fully in the 21st century, they are leading the way. The state parks are not lands that time forgot, but they do need to be considered differently from most applications of public-private partnerships where the outcomes can be more easily monetized.
Marci Mowery
President, Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation
Davitt Woodwell
President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Parks & Forests Foundation website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Foundation,  Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Environmental Council website, visit the PEC Blog, follow PEC on Twitter or Like PEC on Facebook.  Click Here to receive regular updates from PEC.
Related Story:
PA Parks & Forests Foundation: What State Parks Really Need, Hint: Not Golf Courses & Water Slides
Editorial: Set High Bar For Private Development In State Parks
Crable: Vets Find Peace On The Water

PA Parks & Forests Foundation: What State Parks Really Need, Hint: It’s Not Golf Courses & Water Slides

Attempts by House Republicans to dictate, without any involvement of the public, what kinds of recreational experiences should be in Pennsylvania’s State Parks in House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler) and House Bill 2188 (Christiana-R-Beaver) raises the question of what DO our State Parks actually need?
Hint: It’s not water slides, golf courses and cheesy tourist attractions that are a drain on DCNR’s reduced staff and maintenance resources.
Fortunately, the PA Parks and Forests Foundation has the answer.
The Foundation maintains a Wish List of State Park Projects on its website that anyone with a computer can access, if they care to, or even bothered to.  They are listed by State Park and some by Region.
The Wish List includes: Americans With Disabilities Act-compliant trails for veterans and other citizens who are differently-abled, fishing docks and boat launches; improved trail connections; teaching pavilions; and heavy equipment for maintenance staff.
Then there is the maintenance backlog, which includes dam repairs, new sewage and water treatment facilities, upgrades of campgrounds to full hookups and more cabins as requested by the people.
How was the public involved in these Wish List requests?  Through 42, local Friends of State Parks groups that volunteer to improve their local State Parks.
And how else do we know what State Parks need, through Pennsylvania’s, twice-award-winning, Outdoor Recreation Plan which had over 10,000 responses to a public survey on recreation needs; a steering committee representing 40 agencies, organizations, and commissions; three public input meetings; and online public feedback sessions.
The final Plan includes 20 recommendations and 83 action steps.  It’s right here, again, if you care to look, or bother.
The Foundation points out private industry is welcome to support projects on the list. The maintenance backlog can be addressed through proper funding of DCNRs budget by the General Assembly and Gov. Wolf.
Resorts, golf courses and lodges are NOT on DCNR’s wish list or the public’s, according to the Foundation.
For more information on programs, initiatives and special events, visit the PA Parks & Forests Foundation website.  Click Here to sign up for regular updates from the Foundation,  Like them on Facebook or Follow them on Twitter.
Related Story:
House Bill 2013 Remains A Frontal Assault On Why PA State Parks Are So Successful
Editorial: Set High Bar For Private Development In State Parks
Crable: Vets Find Peace On The Water

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Monday, June 27, 2016

Bipartisan Budget Faces Tuesday Vote In House, No Agreement With Senate, Wolf, Conservative Republicans

House Republicans and Democrats on the Appropriations Committee Monday evening voted 36 to 1 to report out Senate Bill 1073 (Browne-R-Lehigh), the FY 2015-16 General Fund budget bill, after amending it to include their FY 2016-17 General Fund budget proposal totaling $31.55 billion.
The House budget proposal has not been agreed to by Gov. Wolf or Senate Republicans.  Rep. Daryl Metcalfe (R-Butler), leader of a conservative bloc of Republicans said he opposed the budget because the “spend number is way too high.”
Jeffrey Sheridan, Gov. Wolf’s spokesperson, said in reaction to the House Appropriations Committee action, “As Gov. Wolf has said, he is focused on a final budget that is balanced with sustainable revenue, invests in education, and provides funding to combat the heroin crisis. The governor looks forward to continuing to work with the legislature, and as the budget moves through the process, he is hopeful all sides can reach an agreement that achieves these goals.”
Rep. Bill Adolph (R-Delaware), Majority Chair of the Committee, said the bill includes a $200 million increase in basic education funding, $20 million in pre-K funding, $5 million for Headstart, $20 million special education and a $345 million increase in pension payments for school employees, the first time in 15 years the state is meeting its obligations.
Community College funding remains the same as in FY 2015-16, as does higher education generally.
Rep. Adolph said the proposal addresses some environmental funding issues, including restoring Growing Greener Program funding and using about $44 million in General Fund monies to support DCNR’s General Government, State Park and Forest Operations rather than Oil and Gas Lease Fund revenues.
The proposal includes $2.25 million for the Heritage Parks Program.
The Department of Environmental Protection receives a 3.6 percent increase, which represents little more than a cost-to-carry budget.  The only line item to get a real increase in DEP’s budget was for a new combined West Nile Virus and Zika Virus Program line which received $1.4 million more.
Rep. Joseph Markosek (D-Allegheny), Minority Chair of the Committee, said the proposal does not entirely eliminate one-time revenue measures, but they are at an historic low.
He also noted, the $31.5 billion would eliminate the threat of state employee layoffs.
The proposal is to be funded, based on what we know now, by a $480 million increase in tobacco taxes, including new taxes on chewing, e-cigarettes and other tobacco products (the cigar exemption remains); $317 million in expanded gaming, including $267 million from iGaming, slots at airports and off-track betting parlors, $50 million from the second casino in Philadelphia; about $150 million from liquor reforms already signed into law; and $129 million from a new tax amnesty program
A natural gas gross receipts tax is not included in the proposed budget.
Click Here for a copy of the line-item budget spreadsheet for the FY 2016-17 budget amendment.
Advocates Concerned About Lawmaker’s Budget Priorities

Republican Bill To Open State Parks To Private Development Moving To Final House Vote

A House Republican initiative-- House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler)-- was amended on the House Floor Monday to create a pilot program to open Pennsylvania’s State Parks to private development by a vote of 152 to 42, eliminating much of the other language in the bill.
The bill was referred to the House Appropriations Committee and is scheduled for a final vote in the House Tuesday.
Because House Bill 2013 was considered by the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee, but not the House Environmental Committee which has jurisdiction over DCNR, Rep. Greg Vitali (D-Delaware), Minority Chair of the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee, made a motion to refer the bill to the Environmental Committee for consideration.
The motion failed 82 to 112.
Both the PA Parks and Forests Foundation and the PA Environmental Council opposed the legislation and the amendment saying--
“Given that DCNR already has the ability to work with private partners for projects on state park land, PEC and PPFF believe this legislation is wholly unnecessary and ill-advised. This includes any attempts to approach the issues through pilot or demonstration projects.
“A 2006 Penn State study on the issue can certainly be revisited, but any language calling for specific types of projects or pushing DCNR into development is antithetical to the state park mission.
“We would welcome a dialogue on opportunities to support state parks and DCNR, but it should not start with opening private development on public lands.”
The PA Parks and Forests Foundation sent a letter to Gov. Wolf Monday explaining its concerns about the bill and the amendment.
Former DCNR Secretary John Oliver joined the Foundation and PEC in opposing the bill.

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