WASHINGTON – The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously approved legislation authored by U.S. Senator John Boozman (R-AR) to restore partnership agreements that allow the reinvestment of recreation fees at U.S. Army Corps of Engineers campgrounds, parks, and other sites.
The Corps of Engineers Cooperative Joint Management Restoration Act, S. 2055, restores an earlier practice of the Corps, by which user fees were reinvested through public-private partnerships to enhance operation, maintenance, and management of recreation sites. Without this legislation, the fees are simply a tax.
Senators Boozman and Tom Carper (D-DE) offered an amendment to the bill to make it easier for non-federal partners to use visitor reservation services, such as the National Recreation Reservation Service, to reserve campsites, permits, and other facilities. The amendment was adopted by a unanimous voice vote.
“This is a great step toward allowing Corps sites in Arkansas to maintain and improve park facilities by reinvesting the fees collected through partnerships,” Boozman said. “I am encouraged by the support of the committee.”
S. 2055 is cosponsored by Senators Blunt (R-MO), McCaskill (D-MO), Pryor (D-AR), and Wicker (R-MS). Companion legislation was introduced in the House by Rep. Tom Cotton (AR-04) and is cosponsored by Congressmen Rick Crawford (AR-01), Tim Griffin (AR-02), Steve Womack (AR-03) and others.
Current Law & Background:
Current law (33 USC §2328) enables the Corps of Engineers to enter into cooperative agreements with non-Federal public and private entities to provide for operation and management of recreation facilities and natural resources at civil works projects. Through cooperative joint management (CJM) agreements, the Corps has formed partnerships with groups ranging from local community-based volunteer organizations (like the Friends of Lake Ouachita) to the National Audubon Society. Until recently, these partnerships helped ensure that Corps recreation facilities were well-maintained and remained open. These agreements also helped ensure that natural resources are conserved and protected.
CJM partnerships have prevented the closure and deterioration of numerous Corps recreation facilities, particularly during budget-constrained times. For many years, the Corps has used its authority in Section 2328 to enter into CJM agreements and leases that allow partners to collect and reinvest recreation user fees. According to the Congressional Budget Office, these arrangements enabled continued operation of many recreation sites that would likely face closure during difficult budget times. Unfortunately, on September 12, 2013, Corps Headquarters released new guidance disallowing this practice. Based on a legal review, the Corps determined that this practice exceeds existing statutory authority by allowing partners to collect user fees and reinvest the proceeds to maintain and improve Corps facilities. The Corps of Engineers Cooperative Joint Management Restoration Act would restore the practice that existed before the September 2013 guidance was issued.