County Urges State To Support Funding For Parks, Historic Sites

OSWEGO, NY – At its meeting Thursday night, the Oswego County Legislature voted unanimously to support full funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

It’s funded through off-shore or on-shore oil and gas drilling (on federal lands) royalties and has been historically authorized at $900 million per year to help acquire, develop and maintain outdoor recreation facilities.

However, Congress has only appropriated the full allotment twice in the last 40 years; the funds have been diverted elsewhere.

The state’s share of the funds would go a long way toward funding historic sites like Fort Ontario and more, said Legislator Morris Sorbello as he offered the resolution for consideration.

“This is from a conservation fund that has been in place for some time. We’d like to send this resolution to our (state) legislators to support this,” he said.

Legislator Mike Kunzwiler pointed out that US Senator Charles Schumer visited historic Fort Ontario recently to announce that the Senate Energy Bill could provide the necessary funding to reverse cuts to state parks and reduce the risk the fort and other state parks and historic sites would have to be closed in the future.

The senator, he said, is pushing for full funding for the LWCF and urging his fellow senators to do the same.

“As (Schumer) looked at this bill and reviewed it, he saw that $900 million has not been allocated toward preservation projects,” Kunzwiler said. “He is urging his colleagues to support this so we can rest at ease that Fort Ontario and the other historic sites in the area will remain open. The state is on hard time, and any help we can get from any of our officials at any level, either side of the aisle, would be greatly appreciated.”

The last year it was fully funded was 1979 when New York State received $24 million.

For more than 40 years, the LWCF has used revenue collected from offshore oil and gas development to purchase lands from willing sellers for the purposes of conservation and to provide grants to states for recreation planning, acquisition of lands and waters and facility development.

Since 1965, the LWCF has partially funded 1,250 projects within the state.

However, Congress has fully funded the program only twice since its inception and rarely has the fund come close to matching the full amount authorized, Schumer said during his visit.

Appropriations over the years have varied wildly and have been a mere fraction of the total amount authorized, he added.

Year after year, the funds haven’t been allocated for what they were intended for, Kunzwiler said.

The bill, which the senator is supporting, contains the full allotment.

“I would hope that some of this funding would help the celebration of the (200th anniversary) War of 1812,” added Legislator Barb Brown. “Our state has taken that (funding) off the budget.”

“Hopefully, this will restore funds to do events like that,” Kunzwiler said. “(The county legislature has) had to make painful cuts to painful programs and it hurt, it was tough. But, it had to be done. So, this would help alleviate that.”

“I want to see the bill go through because we just took a boat with 200 horsepower (motor) and somebody is going to have to pay for that. We need our historical sites. We need the funds,” Legislator Doug Malone said alluding to a previous vote where the legislature accepted an equipment grant from NYS Office of Parks, Recreation and Historic Preservation.

The state provided the 2010 25-foot Parker fiberglass gas boat with twin Yamaha outboard motor and a new trailer to the sheriff’s department.

The boat will augment the department’s fleet.

Tourism is the top industry in the state, the legislature agreed.

The legislators said the LWCF funds would go a long way to preserving historic sites like the fort and state parks like Selkirk, both of which were forced to close earlier this spring due the state’s budget crisis.

Thursday’s vote was 24-0-1 with Legislator Dan Chalifoux excused from the meeting.