Tuesday, February 28, 2012

DCNR Secretary: Elimination Of Keystone Funds Is Permanent

Department of Conservation and Natural Resources Secretary Richard Allan told the House Appropriations Committee Tuesday the transfer of $38 million from the Keystone, Parks and Conservation Fund to the General Fund is not just a one-time transfer, but is proposed to be permanent.
            Here are some key questions asked during the hearing--
More Drilling Leases: Secretary Allan said there is a moratorium in place on further State Forest leasing for drilling.  There are no plans to lease additional State Forest Land, but he said if they would, they would follow the recommendations of the Governor's Marcellus Shale Commission to only do leases where they leave little or no surface impact.

            DCNR anticipates receiving a little over $56 million in FY 2012-13, the FY 2011-12 revenues in royalties and rents from drilling, Secretary Allan said.
            He said another 50 to 100 or so new Marcellus wells should be coming into production on State Forest land during the coming year, however, there may be some decrease in drilling revenues in the next year or so with lower natural gas prices.
            Of the 812 well permits have been approved by DCNR on State Forest land, 778 Marcellus Shale wells have been permitted by DEP, 442 wells have been drilled and there are now 152 producing wells.
            In response to a question, Secretary Allan said the agency professionals are constantly monitoring drilling companies to make sure they comply with their leases and agency best management practices, including encouraging the use of existing access roads and right-of-ways.  He said so far, the drillers have been good stewards and have minimized their impacts on State Forest lands.
Keystone Fund: The proposed transfer of $38 million of revenues earmarked for DCNR from the Keystone, Parks and Conservation Fund to the General Fund generated many questions.  Secretary Allan said the transfer is proposed to be permanent, not a one-time transfer.
            He said he advised the Governor's Office the reduction in funding will require the agency to put off some maintenance projects and reduce the funding going for grants.
            He said the transfer will require the agency to look to other sources of monies to support their operations, like the Oil and Gas Fund, the Environmental Stewardship (Growing Greener) Fund and the new drilling fee revenue.
            Secretary Allan said he believes in the future there will be more revenue in the Oil and Gas Fund and from the new drilling fee to replace at least some of the Keystone Fund monies.  He estimated DCNR could see up to $1.8 million from the new impact fee, 1 percent of the revenue from the drilling fee.
Maintenance Wishlist: Secretary Allan said a "wishlist" of State Parks and State Forest maintenance and improvement projects totaling about $1 billion.  He said they prioritize projects based on health and safety issues and projects which preserve the recreational value of State Parks and State Forests.
State Parks:  In spite of budget constraints, Secretary Allan said, DCNR anticipates being able to keep all State Parks open and available for residents, but acknowledged there may be some changes in some services offered, such as the hours in some parks.
            Secretary Allan repeated the results of an updated economic study showing for every dollar invested, State Parks bring in $12 for a total of $1.1 billion of economic activity annually and they support over 13,000 jobs in and around the parks.
Drilling In State Parks: DCNR has a policy that there will be no drilling in State Parks where the state owns the mineral rights, Secretary Allan said.  Unfortunately, he said, the state owns mineral rights on only 20 percent of the land in State Parks and on 80 percent in State Forests.  He said DCNR will look to enforce their guidelines and best management practices on drillers on State Park land and other areas where they don't own mineral rights to make sure any surface impacts are minimized.
Heritage Parks: In response to a question about again zeroing out of the Heritage Parks Program, Secretary Allan said they are still eligible to apply for grants under the agency's Community Conservation Partnership Grants. 
Privatizing More State Park Services: Asked about leasing State Park land for the development of private recreational facilities, including hotels, golf courses and lakes, Secretary Allan noted DCNR has developed the The Nature Inn at Bald Eagle State Park which gives visitors a higher end visitor overnight accommodations.
Flood Damage: DCNR had about $6 million in damage from flooding last fall.  Secretary Allan said they submitted those damages to the Federal Emergency Management Agency for potential reimbursement.  He complemented DCNR staff for providing help to their local communities and pre and post-flooding aerial photography for helping to assess flood damage.
Friends Groups: Secretary Allan noted many State Parks and State Forests have "Friends" groups that can accept monitory and in-kind donations to help do maintenance and other improvements to DCNR's facilities, within certain rules.
Lifeguards: In response to questions about not having lifeguards at State Parks, Secretary Allan said DCNR will continue the open swim policy at State Parks.  He said visitors said they appreciate the longer swimming hours the program offers.
            A copy of Secretary Allan's written opening statement is available online.

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