In June, the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee on Water Resources and Environment, held a hearing that reviewed the Fiscal Year 2024 Budget Request for agencies under its purview, including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) – a leading provider of public recreation opportunities. The hearing emphasized the need for proper funding to maintain USACE managed lands, an issue the Lake Access Keeping Economies Strong (LAKES) Act would solve.
USACE has played an outsized role in supporting the increased demand for public boating access in recent years, and accordingly, addressing the agency’s infrastructure and access needs remains a top priority for the recreational boating industry.
In his testimony, Major General William “Butch” H. Graham, the Deputy Chief of Engineers, and Deputy Commanding General for USACE, stated, “My top priorities include identifying the highest priority potential investments for the Army Civil Works Program, starting with the maintenance of our existing infrastructure, and ensuring that we deliver studies and finish quality projects safely, on time, and within budget. I am focused on delivering projects that will contribute to the effort to enhance the Nation’s resilience to climate change. These priorities will ensure a better return on taxpayer investment and improve the lives of all Americans.”
Representative Eric Burlison (MO-07), a committee member representing parts of southwest Missouri, including Table Rock Lake managed by the USACE, raised concerns regarding how fees from recreation at the lake are used. Burlison noted recreation fees collected at Table Rock Lake and other USACE managed boat launches, campgrounds, and other recreation sites are sent directly to the Treasury Department rather than being reinvested in the infrastructure and facilities generating the revenue. Even though USACE manages recreation visitation on scale with the National Park Service (NPS), the agency’s recreation program is historically underfunded, resulting in a $4 billion deferred maintenance backlog across USACE managed recreation sites – a system that provides the most water-based public recreation opportunities.
The LAKES Act, recently introduced in the Senate by Senators Kevin Cramer (R-ND) and Martin Henrich (D-NM), takes an integral step towards putting the USACE recreation program on a more sustainable path forward. Under the LAKES Act, 80% of recreation fees would be reinvested back into the sites where revenues are collected, ensuring sites such as Table Rock Lake in Missouri receive the funding necessary to remain safe and operational.
Visit Boating United to encourage your elected officials to support the LAKES Act today.