Thursday, June 23, 2016

House Bill To Open State Parks To Private Development May Be Considered As Early As Today

A House Republican initiative-- House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler)-- to open Pennsylvania’s State Parks to private development could be considered as early as today on the House Floor, according to news reports.
Gov. Wolf has already made major concessions to Republicans on environmental issues in the last 2 weeks.
He agreed to kill conventional drilling regulations— Senate Bill 279 (Hutchinson-R-Venango), now Act 52, and agreed to more legislative oversight for any DEP plan to implement the EPA Clean Power Climate Rule— Senate Bill 1195 (White-R-Indiana), now Act 57. Gov. Wolf signed both bills into law Thursday.
Will House Bill 2013 be next?  And could it show up in an omnibus Fiscal Code bill that moves along with any final state budget settlement with no public review?
Good questions.  
The PA Environmental Council and The Nature Conservancy-Pennsylvania Tuesday expressed their opposition to House Bill 2013 (Ellis-R-Butler) that would create a new board to oversee public-private partnerships to bring golf courses, water parks and any other recreational experiences private developers could propose to Pennsylvania’s State Parks.
The bill was amended and reported out of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee Tuesday and is now in the House Rules Committee.
The groups noted House Bill 2013 would create a new board within DCNR that takes away the ability of DCNR to determine which private recreation development is appropriate within State Parks.
The bill does not provide for any public involvement in making decisions on what kinds of private development to approve and saddles DCNR with the long-term maintenance costs of any facilities approved by the new Board.
Take Action
Davitt Woodwell, President of PEC, provided this video overview of the issues and urged the public to contact their member of the House of Representatives to oppose the bill.  Click Here to find your legislator.
Action on House Bill 2013 follows the introduction this week of House Bill 2188 (Christiana-R-Beaver) which directs DCNR to build 4 golf courses on its land to establish the Arnold Palmer Trails Program (sponsor summary).
Text Of PEC/TNC Letter
The text of a letter sent to members of the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee follows--
Dear Representatives:
We are writing to share the concerns of the Pennsylvania Environmental Council and the Pennsylvania Chapter of The Nature Conservancy regarding House Bill 2013, Printer's Number 3219, scheduled to be considered at the June 21 meeting of the Committee on Tourism and Recreational Development.  
House Bill 2013 would amend the Conservation and Natural Resources Act to establish a Public-Private State Park Partnership Board (Board) to review and approve contracts with private sector entities for development, financing, construction and operation of recreation, lodging and ancillary facilities in Pennsylvania State Parks.
Pennsylvania's system of 120 State Parks is an incredibly valuable asset from which the citizens of the Commonwealth derive multiple benefits.  
State Parks provide opportunities for affordable and healthful outdoor recreation, nature interpretation and environmental education,  while conserving important natural, scenic, aesthetic and historical values.  
They also make meaningful contributions to community quality of life and economic development, generating more than $1 billion in local expenditures across the State and returning $12.37 in economic value for every dollar invested.  
What's more, Pennsylvania's State Parks have been recognized as one of the best-managed systems in the nation, receiving a National Gold Medal Award for Excellence in Park and Recreation Management.
This successful record of management includes oversight of more than 130 concession operations.  DCNR has existing authority to enter into concession or lease agreements, including long term contracts for large-scale recreation facilities.  
Through their extensive experience providing Pennsylvanians with quality outdoor recreation opportunities, State Park professionals have learned which types of public-private partnerships work best.   
Accordingly, we question both the need for and value of a separate entity like the proposed Board.  
We believe its functions at the very least would duplicate decision making responsibilities of State Parks professionals, and potentially could result in recommendations that are inconsistent with the mission of Pennsylvania's State Parks and the best professional judgment of State Park managers.   
Our specific concerns include the following:
​-- ​New Board: Under House Bill 2013, the newly-created Board would enjoy considerable leverage and influence, and as such, DCNR could find it difficult to reject the Board's recommendations for development projects, even if they conflict with State Park management goals and priorities.   
​The above concern is particularly noteworthy, when observing that House Bill 2013 provides no criteria for the Board to use in its review and approval of proposed projects.
The bill contains a reference to developing guidelines for sponsors to use when submitting proposals, but does not identify specific factors the Board will consider in evaluating such proposals (e.g., potential effect on existing park users/uses, potential impact on natural resources/habitat, compatibility with park character and local land uses, level of long term maintenance and reinvestment required, demand for service/amenity to be offered, etc.).  
-- No Additional Funding: House Bill 2013 would require DCNR to provide all necessary assistance to the Board, including retention of legal, financial and technical consultants.  The additional responsibilities and related costs associated with the Board's inventory, solicitation, and evaluation of proposed projects could be substantial.  The legislation provides no additional source of funding for these activities.
-- Long-Term Maintenance Costs: House Bill 2013 also imposes long term maintenance costs on the Commonwealth by transferring management responsibilities to DCNR after 25 years — typically when substantial upkeep and repair will be needed. The legislation provides no source funding for these obligations.
-- No Public Involvement: Although it would create a new process for approving potential development projects in Pennsylvania's State Parks, and such projects are likely to be of considerable interest to the public, House Bill 2013 does not provide opportunities for public review and comment as part of the Board's approval process.    
Because of the concerns noted above, we are unable to support House Bill 2013, PN 3219.  
We encourage the Committee and sponsors, rather than moving forward with this legislation, instead to explore working with DCNR and its Recreational Advisory Committee and Conservation and Natural Resources Advisory Council to update the study on State Park concession and lease operations conducted by Penn State ten years ago.
Such a review could provide helpful information on the views and preferences of visitors regarding recreation opportunities at State Parks and the experiences of DCNR and park agencies in other states with the private operation of park infrastructure and facilities of all sizes and categories.  
Ronald L. Ramsey, Senior Policy Advisor, The Nature Conservancy - Pennsylvania,
John Walliser, Senior Vice President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
A sponsor summary of the bill is available.
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.
Bill Would Open State Parks To Golf, Water Slides, Hotels

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