Louisiana Budget Crisis Would Force Park Closures

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February 24, 2010 by   - () Leave a Comment

Louisiana spent $13 million on Palmetto Island State Park, building vacation cabins, a campground, picnic facilities and a floating fishing pier on a picturesque bayou in Vermilion Parish.

But parks officials said Tuesday (Feb. 23) that Palmetto Island won't be able to open later this year as scheduled, based on the funding proposed in Gov. Bobby Jindal's budget recommendations, according to Business Week.

Stuart Johnson, assistant secretary of the Office of State Parks, told the Senate Finance Committee that the governor's budget wouldn't pay for the new park's opening and would force other parks to close.

"We're going to have to make some tough decisions because we don't want to thin the soup any more," Johnson said. "It will mean shutting down the parks that don't have as high visitation so we have the resources to maintain those parks that have higher visitation."

The governor proposed an $11.4 million cut to the Department of Culture, Recreation and Tourism — which includes the state parks office — about a 14% cut to the department's budget, dropping it to $83.4 million. Most agencies face budget cuts proposed in next year's 2010-11 spending plan, to cope with a nearly $1 billion decrease in state revenue.

Johnson said the cut would mean the state parks won't be able to hire maintenance workers, rangers, workers for fee collection stations and other employees needed to run all the parks. Johnson said his office would look at park closures and more limited hours, but he said it was too early to say which parks would be shuttered.

Lawmakers will craft a final budget for next year in the legislative session that begins March 29, deciding which agencies they want to cut and how deeply.

After a round of midyear budget cuts this year, the tourism department closed two state historic sites, an antebellum cotton plantation in Tensas Parish and an archaeological site near Natchitoches, making them available for group tours by appointment only.

At other parks, Johnson said the state already is increasing fees and managers are cleaning park cabins because of a lack of workers.

Louisiana operates 37 parks and historic sites. In addition, Bogue Chitto State Park in Washington Parish is set to open in April, and Johnson said that will remain on schedule.

Johnson said it would cost $1.3 million to open Palmetto Island State Park in the new year that begins July 1.

Members of the Senate Finance Committee complained Tuesday about the proposed cuts and asked about possible fee increases or local government help to keep the parks open.

"Can you believe we're going to spend all this money building a park and not open it?" said Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi. "We need to find a way … some way to make that park work."

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