Saturday, May 9, 2020

Learn More About $1 Billion State Parks, Forests Maintenance, Infrastructure Backlog At New Website; Then Take Action

The PA Parks and Forests Foundation, along with partners PA Forestry Association and the PA Recreation and Park Society, have launched a new website-- Protect Our Parks and Forests-- focusing on the more than $1 billion in maintenance, safety and infrastructure needs in Pennsylvania’s State Parks and Forests.
In January of 2019, the PA Parks and Forests Foundation published a report detailing the more than $1 billion backlog of maintenance, safety and infrastructure needs in State Parks and Forests.
Called The Legacy of Pennsylvania Parks and Forests: The Future Is In Our Hands, the report concluded-- “Years of underfunding and sporadic investment has created a situation in which our built (bridges, dams, water and sewage treatment facilities, recreational facilities) and natural environments face an unprecedented need.”
In a presentation to the House Tourism and Recreation Development Committee in March 2019, Foundation president Marci Mowrey presented the findings of the report saying-- “State parks and forests are our golden egg, but right now we are starving the goose.”
For every dollar invested in state parks, she said, $12.41 of income is returned to the local and state economy. [Now, isn't that a real benefit to small businesses and communities hard hit by the COVID-19 pandemic!]
In describing the maintenance needs, Mowery noted DCNR manages an area twice the size of the state of Delaware that has over 40 million visitors a year.
She said one recently appointed state park manager told her a park is like managing a city with roads, bridges, dams, pavilions, cabins and other buildings, often with wastewater and drinking water plants, docks, marinas, pools, ski areas and golf courses and other recreation infrastructure that needs to be kept up and safe for visitors so they can fully enjoy the parks.
Mowery said, however, many of the buildings used by those visitors were built during the 1930s by the Civilian Conservation Corps or during the “Goddard Era” of development in the 1970s and are often decades beyond their original design life.
DCNR also owns and operates 131 dams, including 47 that are considered high hazard, as well as 860 vehicular bridges and hundreds of pedestrian bridges.  The average age of a bridge in a state park is 62 years, when the design life is 50 years.
She also noted staffing levels at DCNR are at the same level they were in 1970 when state parks and forests had half the number of visitors and many fewer parks to manage.
The Protect Our Parks and Forests website details the issues with dams, water and sewage systems, roads and bridges, buildings, recreation facilities and trails, visitor services and more.
The Foundation also encourages website visitors to advocate for State Parks and Forests with members of the General Assembly.
On January 15 of this year, DCNR made a presentation before the House Tourism and Recreational Development Committee on the new strategic plan for State Parks, but the biggest topic of discussion was where to get the funding needed to address the maintenance and safety projects backlog.
But that wasn’t the first time DCNR raised the issue of funding needed to address Park and Forest infrastructure issues.
Seven years ago, during a March 2013 budget hearing by the Senate, DCNR raised the $1 billion backlog of maintenance projects in Parks and Forests as part of its written budget testimony and it has been a topic of discussion at budget hearings since then.
The response so far from the General Assembly has been several attempts-- successful and unsuccessful-- to take funding away from local and state recreation facilities and to ignore a 2017 ruling by the PA Supreme Court saying funds derived from natural gas drilling on State Forest land should be reinvested back into those lands instead of using them to balance the state budget.
The latest attempt on April 21, was when House Republicans passed House Bill 1822 (M.Keller-R-Perry) by a party line vote to freeze funding for county conservation districts and from a series of environmental and other funds to support local parks, trails, farm conservation, environmental restoration and other projects for the duration of the current COVID-19 emergency, which could be years.  Read more here.
And then on May 5, Republicans on the House Environmental Resources and Energy Committee reported out House Bill 2004 (Ortitay-R-Allegheny) that would reallocate monies from the Keystone Recreation, Park and Conservation Fund used to support local recreation and conservation projects statewide in another angle on their endless budget shell game of robbing Peter to pay Paul and Mary, without adding any new money.  Read more here.
In the current FY 2019-20 state budget, Republicans tried, but failed to divert money from the Keystone Fund to pay for DCNR operating costs, but succeeded in taking monies for those purposes from the Oil and Gas Lease Fund and other environmental funds. Although some of that money was later restored, the intentions were very clear.  Read more here.
All these actions are consistent with a Republican vote in 2017 to make the largest cuts to local and state recreation and environmental restoration funding in history but diverting monies to balance the state budget. Read more here.
Since 2003, the General Assembly has diverted or cut $2.93 billion in environmental funding, primarily to help balance the state budget or to fund programs that could not attract support on their own.  Read more here.
Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, 2020 was going to be a make or break year for environmental funding. Read more here.
Farmers, communities, local governments, authorities, businesses and local, regional and state conservation and environmental agencies have been the target of unprecedented cuts in state funding to improve the environment over the last decade. 
At the same time, they are now providing the only real leadership we have to do the right thing to protect and restore the environment, and are struggling to find that same leadership among state politicians that will help them.  Read more here.
$172 Million Just Sitting There
While Senate and House leaders have repeatedly wanted to cut and divert environmental funding, those same Senate and House leaders are STILL sitting on a $172 million surplus in their own operating accounts.  Read more here.
Learn how you can help politicians hear from real people.
Visit the Protect Our Parks and Forests website to learn much more.
For more information on programs, initiatives, special events and how you can get involved, 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 or tune in to their YouTube ChannelClick Here to become a member of the Foundation.
Related Articles - Parks & Forests:
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Related Articles - Latest Challenges To Funding:
     --  Op-Ed: Conservation District Week Highlights The Real Economic, Environmental Benefits Of Districts - Len Lichvar, District Manager, Somerset Conservation District
[Posted: May 9, 2020]  PA Environment Digest

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