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In fact, in 2021, Congress rescinded $23 million in LWCF funds remaining from 2017 and earlier.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.