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Vital federal fund could be lost without renewal

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — A water advocacy group in West Virginia is pushing the state’s Congressional Delegation to back renewal of a little known conservation and recreation fund which has had a big impact on West Virginia over the years. The Land and Water Conservation Fund is due to expire in September unless Congress renews.

“It’s been around since 1964,” said Matt Kerns of the West Virginia Rivers Coalition. “It was originally authorized for 25 years and renewed for another 25. Then in 2015 it was authorized for 3 years and it will sunset in September 2015.”

Kerns and others are reluctant to let the fund go because of the vast number of projects it has funded in West Virginia both on federal land and through grants to other state and local public places.

“The federal side has bought boater access for the New and Gauley National Rivers, it bought property in the National Forest, it bought mineral rights under Cranberry Wilderness,” said Kerns. “Canaan Valley Wildlife Refuge, Ohio River Islands National Wildlife Refuge, and Harper’s Ferry have all benefited.”

However, beyond those well known areas of West Virginia, the funding in the form of recreational and conservation grants has paid for ballparks, playgrounds, and other public recreational facilities statewide over the years. All but one of the state’s counties received some level of grant funding from the fund over the years.

The fund is fueled with annual contributions from a tax on off-shore gas and oil drilling, mostly in the Gulf of Mexico. The purpose was to compensate the United States for the potentially negative impacts of drilling by creating vast recreational and conservation projects around the nation. The fund is authorized to received up to $900 Million annually, but rarely gets that much. This year it received $450 Million.

Kerns indicated they are finding favorable support among the state’s Congressional Delegation for a renewal.

“Senator Manchin and Senator Capito both support renewing the fund and attaching a permanent renewal to it so we don’t have to debate whether the fund should exist,” said Kerns. “Senator Manchin also supports a measure to make sure it is fully funded each year.”

The fund was originally created for 25 years and was renewed for another 25 year period. The last renewal from 2015 only renewed the fund for three years.

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