Dear Governor Wolf and Members of the General Assembly:
The General Assembly has before it a bill, H.B. 2013 (P.N. 3575), that calls for the creation of a politically-appointed board to consider proposals for private development in state parks. The types of development specifically named in the legislation include office buildings, amusement parks, and golf courses. While there are already two golf courses in state parks, one built in the 1800s and the other in the 1920s, that does not mean that building more is a good idea.
The Department of Conservation and Natural Resources (DCNR) already has the ability to accommodate private operations, where appropriate. Today more than 150 concessionaires operate a range of activities on state land. House Bill 2013 would fundamentally alter this dynamic by allowing a politically motivated board to advance proposals to the Department, regardless of whether DCNR’s professional staff thought there was public value or need.
Even worse, the bill’s approach to accountability is to favor allowing private developers to transfer structures or facilities to DCNR after 25 years – just about the time that all kinds of deferred maintenance costs are due – leaving the Department to clean-up the mess and pick-up the tab.
Pennsylvania’s 121 state parks are a marvelous system that span the Commonwealth, offering a wide variety of recreational opportunities that attract millions of visitors each year. As far as economic development goes, the parks serve an amazing role, bringing in more than $1 billion to local economies and returning $12.37 for every dollar that DCNR spends on them.
Besides undermining the principle of our public lands, this legislation would result in unsustainable projects that cost taxpayers more, and hurt those providers who have made tremendous investments close by the parks who depend on park visitors. There is no shortage of communities and landowners looking for this kind of economic development.
Pennsylvania’s state park system is properly recognized as one of the best in the country. While our public lands desperately need investment – DCNR faces a tremendous backlog of unfunded infrastructure projects – bartering our lands out to private developers is not the way to go.
This idea has been rejected by past administrations as bad policy that didn’t make environmental or economic sense. Our state lands have been painstaking built and protected by over a century of public investment; they are treasured by the citizens of Pennsylvania. We urge you to do the same and reject this bad legislation.
John C. Oliver
Former Secretary, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources
President, Pennsylvania Environmental Council
President, Pennsylvania Parks and Forests Foundation