recreation

Revised Haslam budget pays TVA $11.8M to keep Ocoee River rafting afloat

The state will provide $11.8 million to TVA to keep the Ocoee River rafting industry afloat for the next 20 years under the newly-revised version of Gov. Bill Haslam’s state budget for the coming fiscal year, reports the Times-Free Press.

The state money will reimburse TVA for the cost of power lost when the Polk County river flows freely during the spring, summer and early fall, allowing whitewater rafting operations. Otherwise, TVA diverts the river flow into a plume for electric power generation.

“It’s a huge win for Southeast Tennessee,” said Sen. Mike Bell, R-Riceville, who along with Rep. Dan Howell, R-Georgetown, have been working with the whitewater industry and their representatives, Haslam, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, TVA, the U.S. Forest Service and others to come to an agreement.

Bell and Howell have legislation (HB74) moving in the General Assembly to create a new type of water authority, the Ocoee River Recreation and Economic Development Fund, to support recreational water releases on the Ocoee.

The new entity would be overseen by an 11-member board and all fees currently paid by whitewater rafting customers to TVA would go into the fund.

Note: TVA now receives funds to repay for loss of power generation through a fee tacked onto each ticket sold by rafting operations, but an agreement on the matter expires in 2018. Under the new deal, TVA gets its money up front, the new development fund gets the fees (expected to be about $4 per ticket) and repays the state over a period of years.

Congress approves fed assessment of outdoor recreation (similar TN move afoot)

Congress has approved and sent to President Obama’s desk the “Outdoor Recreation Jobs and Economic Impact Act of 2016,’which requires the federal government to assess the nation’s outdoor recreation impact and its effect on the overall U.S. economy, reports the Times-Free Press.

The bill directs the Commerce, Agriculture and Interior departments to work through the Bureau of Economic Analysis to conduct the analysis. The resulting report is due to be handed to several congressional committees within two years. The Outdoor Industry Association calls the Rec Act “breakthrough legislation” that could result in positive policy trends for the outdoors.

The OIA has estimated outdoor recreation to be a $646 billion industry. Passage of the Rec Act ensures there will be government-sanctioned statistical reports on the industry on a par with others tracked by the Department of Commerce.

… Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., who once chaired the President’s Commission on American Outdoors, grew up hiking in the Great Smoky Mountains. In a statement, he praised Tennessee’s “proud tradition” of protecting lands and heritage while increasing tourism and bringing in money from around the world.

“I look forward to the Commerce Department’s report on the economic benefits of the Great American Outdoors,” Alexander said.

Note: Legislation calling for a Tennessee state government assessment of outdoor activities with an eye toward the future was introduced in the General Assembly last session and passed the Senate unanimously, only to fail in the House Budget Subcommittee. The state had a similar assessment back in 1986, prompted by then-Gov. Alexander. Leaders of the Tennessee Wildlife Federation, which  pushed the idea, have indicated an intent to try again in 2017.

ABOUT THIS BLOG

Former Knoxville News Sentinel capitol bureau chief Tom Humphrey writes about Tennessee politics, government, and legislative news.

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