TPWD prepares to use larger budget for renewal efforts
With appropriations in hand, stage is set for major TPWD construction projects
For the 2012-2013 two-year state budget period, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) was allocated $23 million for state park capital repairs. For the next biennium, the department’s capital repairs budget had shrunk to $11 million. For the current budget, the TPWD is able to plan to clear a substantial portion of its lengthy backlog of repair projects, because the Texas Legislature last year chose to dedicate the full 94 percent of sporting goods sales tax revenue to the state parks department. That move gives TPWD planners $90.6 million to work with in terms of capital repairs.
“We were able to lay out a case where state leaders could fully understand the scale and gravity of what we are confronting and agree on the value of investing in parks,” said Carter Smith, TPWD executive director, describing how the department made its case to lawmakers during the 2015 legislative session. “The legislative support for addressing the needs of local and state parks was simply overwhelming.”
The legislature first assigned the department 94 percent of the sporting goods sales tax in the 2007 session, but the language of the bill actually allowed the legislature to dedicate up to 94 percent to the state parks. It had never done so until the 2015 session, when overtures from parks officials and conservation groups were able to persuade legislators to give the TPWD its full allotment for this biennium.
With the relative abundance of resources, opportunities for parks projects will be plentiful in the coming months and years. The TPWD created a web portal that lays out the assorted projects that are on the schedule for completion. There are more than 80 TPWD construction projects on that list, some of which are already under construction.
Visitor centers and park headquarters facilities will be replaced entirely at several parks throughout the state. Water and wastewater systems will see upgrades, as will electric utilities at many park locations. One noteworthy item will be the creation of an entirely new park west of Fort Worth. More than $2.5 million is earmarked for the design and engineering phase of the new Palo Pinto Mountains State Park. The new park, located between Strawn and Ranger, could be opened as soon as 2020, but only if funding for post-design phases makes it through future legislative sessions. Officials estimate that the total costs could reach as high as $30 million.
The biggest-ticket items on the TPWD construction projects list are $25 million toward repairs and replacement of structural components for the Battleship Texas in LaPorte and $15 million that will go for projects on Galveston Island.
The island suffered severe damage from Hurricane Ike in 2008, and a lack of funding has delayed its full restoration. The plan calls for the addition of boardwalks to the beach, as well as tent camping platforms and multi-use campsites with electric and water service. Construction of group shelters, picnic shelters and a visitor check-in station is also included in the program.
In addition to the $10 million from the state, Galveston Island also will see $10.6 million of RESTORE Act funding, which resulted from the settlement reached between BP and the federal and state governments following the 2010 Deepwater Horizon disaster. The state park also will see work done on its roads thanks to funding provided by the Texas Department of Transportation (TxDOT).
Even with the breadth of projects finally able to get the go-ahead in terms of funding, state parks require much more maintenance and repairs, according to Scott Stover, deputy director of the Infrastructure Division at TPWD.
The legislature had requested state agencies review their backlogs of projects and report the funding required to clear the slate. “As of last session, we went through our project list and there was a little more than $600 million — $604 million — in deferred maintenance at state parks,” said Stover. “But that was last year, and since then we’ve had a lot of flooding …”
The good news for parks officials is that legislators listened to their reasoning and acted accordingly. Stover, while adding the caveat that he’d be reluctant to predict what the legislature will do in the future, is optimistic about the funding going forward. “We would expect it to continue,” he said, speaking of the Parks and Wildlife Department receiving the full 94 percent of the sporting goods sales tax. “We have every indication that it will continue.”