When I read in The Peninsula Gateway last week that plans for completion of the Eddon Boat Waterfront Park in Gig Harbor have been put in jeopardy, I was understandably upset.
The plans would add waterfront properties in the heart of Gig Harbor for everyone to enjoy. It would give access to the beach and water for boating, fishing and paddling, and it would provide the uplands to take in panoramic views of the harbor.
The project needs $293,927 from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, which the city would match.
Last month, Congress dropped a provision from the Transportation bill that guaranteed robust funding for projects like Eddon Boat Waterfront Park and other parks, trails, water access and recreational lands throughout the country.
But the park project isn’t dead in the water. We need to call on Congress to find a solution for consistent, reliable funding for the Land and Water Conservation Fund – a lesser-known national program with outsized impacts on Washington’s national and neighborhood parks and trails.
When Congress established the fund in 1965, it was based on a sensible and simple idea: a very small percentage of fees paid by offshore oil and gas drilling companies — not taxpayer dollars — should be used to improve recreational opportunities and protect exceptional lands and waters for public use.
The public supports the idea: A recent survey conducted by bipartisan pollsters Lori Weigel and David Metz found that three-quarters (74 percent) of American voters say that, even with federal budget problems, funding for conservation should not be cut.
But even so, Congress consistently raids the fund for purposes other than parks and outdoor recreation. The provision that Congress dropped from the transportation bill would have stopped Congress from raiding the program and guaranteed funding.
In my many years as state representative, I consistently supported investments in our state’s recreation, conservation and cultural assets because I knew how big the return was. Congress failed to see the obvious. Omitting the important provision from the Transportation bill cost us investment opportunities with a big local payoff.
Fortunately, we have another bite at the apple. Congress can set aside Land and Water Conservation funds in the annual appropriations bill. But securing that funding will be an uphill battle. The House Appropriations Committee just proposed only $66 million for the fund — 80 percent from the level at which it was funded last year.
At that level, projects like Eddon Boat Waterfront Park, Mount Rainier National Park, the Pacific Crest Trail, Nisqually Wildlife Refuge, Point Defiance Park in Tacoma and Anderson Cove Waterfront Park in Bremerton – among many others – would go uncompleted this year. These projects are ready to go with willing sellers, and if we don’t act this year, we could lose out on the opportunity to secure public access and protect the lands forever.
Parks, trails, recreation areas and wilderness provide for our way of life, support small businesses in our state and raise our property values. The Outdoor Industry Association estimates that activities like camping, boating, paddling, fishing, hiking, skiing and bicycling contribute $646 billion to the U.S. economy and supports 6.5 million jobs. In Washington State alone, outdoor recreation supports 115,000 jobs and contributes $11.7 billion to the state economy.
The economic benefits by themselves justify this program.
Luckily, we have strong bipartisan leaders for conservation and recreation funding in Senators Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, and Congressmen Norm Dicks, Adam Smith and Dave Reichert.
Please join me in thanking them for their support and asking that they continue to work on a solution to make sure the Land and Water Conservation Fund gets consistent, reliable funding that we can put to work in our communities.
Pat Lantz is a former state representative from the 26th Legislative District, which includes Gig Harbor. She currently is a commissioner for the state Parks and Recreation Commission and lives on Raft Island.