PALTA Letter sent to House on 6/23/16:
On behalf of the 75 member organizations of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association, I write to request your opposition to House Bill 2013—whether or not amended. Pennsylvania’s land trusts, having donated or bargain-sold numerous parcels of land to the Commonwealth for the creation and expansion of State Parks, want the state to build on its award-winning track record of responsibly managing the State Park system. HB 2013 is not a viable path forward.
The bill’s co-sponsorship memo describes the bill as allowing DCNR “to enter in public-private partnerships to provide additional recreational activities in Pennsylvania state parks.” All well and good, except DCNR already responsibly pursues public-private partnerships, having 138 private concessionaires and working with more than 50 volunteer-based friends groups.
The legislation also:
- Disregards the state’s national award-winning recreation plan and its attendant public opinion surveys, which found that what the public wants most in the way of new park infrastructure is more rental cabins, bike lanes, and natural and wild areas.
- Sidesteps DCNR’s award-winning professional park leadership, who have extensive experience with public-private partnerships—managing, and understanding what arrangements are most likely to succeed in the long-term.
- Creates a new government entity that, due to its makeup, will have substantial leverage over park decisions; yet, it will have no responsibility to ensure that projects are consistent with long-term park plans and won’t become huge burdens on taxpayers after 25 years.
- Does nothing to guard against repeating the costly mistakes of other states—resort-like developments in state parks have a history of failure.
- Places new financial burdens on DCNR without providing new revenue to cover these expenses.
- Puts narrow private interests ahead of the Constitutional rights of Pennsylvanians. Article I of the Pennsylvania Constitution, the same article that provides for freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and the right to bear arms, states that:
Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.
The bill’s call for office buildings is not consistent with the Commonwealth’s constitutional obligation to act as trustee of the Parks. Likewise for the bill’s failure to establish factors to consider in evaluating proposals.
Finally, this bill places the public sector in direct competition with the private sector, which already manages more than 100 resorts in the state. There is no reason that the public sector needs to play favorites—to provide select private entities with public lands for their development pursuits, public lands that other private entities have not needed to establish successful ventures–especially with so many quality private recreational facilities here in Pennsylvania.
DCNR through its recently completed State Comprehensive Outdoor Recreation Plan entertained robust discussions and recommendations on how parks may better serve Pennsylvanians. If members of the General Assembly feel that valuable perspectives were missed, then it’s appropriate to broaden the conversation and initiate new explorations on how State Parks may better serve Pennsylvanians. Existing channels, such as DCNR’s advisory committees and the joint legislative committee, seem like appropriate starting points.
On behalf of the 75 member organizations of the Pennsylvania Land Trust Association and the 120,000 Pennsylvanians they count as members, thank you for your consideration.
Andrew M. Loza