Sun Sentinel Palm Beach Edition

We’re letting millions in federal money go unspent


This winter, as Floridians gather with their friends and family to get outside and enjoy cooler temperatur­es, perhaps they will head over to Silver Springs State Park to enjoy the crystal-clear springs, paddleboar­d or look at the manatees. Or maybe they’ll choose to stay closer to home and visit Lewis Landing Park in Fort Lauderdale for a run on the jogging path or to introduce a kid to fishing at the dock.

While many residents and visitors enjoy these special places, few realize they were made possible, in part, through the Land and Water Conservati­on Fund’s State and Local Assistance Program (state LWCF). It’s a program funded equally by offshore oil and natural gas royalties and matching state dollars.

Like any federally funded program, there have been challenges in properly spending this money. But recent legislativ­e action, championed by the Oak Grove Initiative and our partners, is addressing these challenges.

This past fall, the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at the Department of the Interior evaluated state LWCF grants issued by the National Park Service. It found that, since 2014, unspent money meant to support recreation, outdoor access and opportunit­ies in communitie­s has reached nearly half a billion dollars.

In fact, in 2021, Congress rescinded $23 million in LWCF funds remaining from 2017 and earlier. According to the OIG, the main reason these funds were not spent was that states had failed to provide money to support administra­tion costs like salaries and expenses for administer­ing grants, monitoring projects and site visits.

In 2020, while I was acting director of the National Park Service, we sought to fix this problem. In its management advisory recommenda­tions, the OIG agreed with our assessment and urged the park service to seek a formal opinion clarifying and updating the service’s authority to provide administra­tive assistance to states. The current administra­tion supported these efforts, which were included in the 2023 Omnibus Appropriat­ions bill.

Along with increased funds for conservati­on and recreation projects, the newly enacted law offers states a lifeline of administra­tive support by providing them with up to 7% in matching grants to support administra­tive costs for their LWCF programs. These funds will be essential to enjoying and improving Florida’s recreation­al opportunit­ies, while supporting and growing the $454 billion recreation economy.

As billions in new funds make their way to state coffers under the Inflation Reduction Act and the infrastruc­ture law, assistance in managing these funds will be critical to protecting taxpayers’ resources while achieving the potential these new funds offer to Florida residents and visitors.

As communitie­s, conservati­on groups and individual­s who care about access and opportunit­ies for all people, we must loudly and consistent­ly ask our elected leaders to focus on the process of how these dollars get to their intended places so all communitie­s may benefit from the recreation­al activities they make possible.

Margaret Everson is the executive director of the Washington D.C.-based Oak Grove Initiative. She previously served as acting director of the National Park Service, acting director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and counselor to the Secretary of the Interior.

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By Margaret Everson

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