Corps' Joint Management Agreements Illegal
The fees collected at campgrounds and other public use areas on the Table Rock Lake shoreline will go straight to the U.S. Treasury instead of to local nonprofits, ozarksfirst.com reported.
For the last three years, a nonprofit group called the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation (ORHF) has been giving tours of Table Rock Dam and managing many properties for the Army Corps of Engineers (USACE)
But in a recent press release, the corps announced that it would no longer enter into such partnerships, which it calls “cooperative joint management agreements.”
Greg Oller, the Table Rock Lake manager for the corps, explained that an internal legal review of the agreements revealed that USACE did not have the authority to let a nonprofit collect fees on its behalf.
“They said we basically had to eliminate those types of agreements,” Oller said, “with those cooperating associations.”
Many of the workers at Dewey Short Visitors Center, Indian Point, Moonshine Beach and other public use areas are funded through the fees collected by ORHF. The group then reinvests the fees into projects like facilities improvements, expansions, workshops and worker salaries.
Sheila Thomas, the director of the foundation, explained that the practice saves the corps money because ORHF can develop programs and reinvest money flowing into the park.
“By being here,” she explained. “We’re able to, not just offer the services, but expand the services that are offered to the public.”
Thomas said the foundation will have to lay off four workers go this week, and possible more if OHRF does not negotiate a new, traditional lease with the corps. She said many of the services Dewey Short offers, such as workshops for school groups, might be discontinued because there is no way to fund them.
Without collecting fees, the foundation cannot proceed with many of its planned expansions, such as improved showering facilities and maintenance to campgrounds.
Thomas stressed that it was too early to tell whether OHRF could continue to operate at all, but that she hoped that a traditional lease would let her and her staff continue to develop new programs for the lake.
“We try to make it a great place for people to come and visit,” she said. “No matter who's providing the service.”
Oller said that the corps would take over many of the services the foundation previously offered, but that budget cuts on a federal level would severely impact what services would continue.
He explained that the fees collected to the corps would go to a general fund, and not to the park.
“We're still in the discussion phases with our district offices and just trying to figure out how much money we'll have available to operate these recreation areas,” he said.