Why It Matters: For years, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) has collected recreation fees at public-use facilities on Corps properties around the country, including boat ramps. Instead of using those fees for the upkeep or improvement of those boating access sites, the fees have been diverted to the general treasury of the United States. Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus (CSC) Members Senators Cramer and Heinrich intend to change that with the introduction of the LAKES Act last week.
- The Corps began charging fees for the use of public facilities on their water projects years ago, and there was a local expectation that those fees would return to the facility for maintenance and improvements. However, that has not been the case.
- A Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation (CSF) supported remedy was initially included in the Water Resources Development Act of 2022 that would have returned 80% of fees collected to those facilities from which they came, but the provision was eventually removed for procedural reasons unrelated to the substance of this fix.
- CSC Members Senators Cramer and Heinrich recently reintroduced the measure as a standalone bill in the Senate, known as the LAKES Act.
With more than 400 lake and river projects around the country, the Corps is one of the largest federal providers of public outdoor recreation in the nation, responsible for around 257,000 facilities across 43 states. Yet, unlike fees charged by the Department of the Interior or Department of Agriculture at similar recreation facilities under their jurisdictions, the Corps does not have the legal authority to retain a portion of the fees they collect for infrastructure improvements at those public facilities.
While a bipartisan and CSF-supported provision in the 2022 Water Resources Development Act would have allowed up to 80% of Corps-collected fees to remain at local facilities, it was removed from the bill for procedural reasons. Fortunately, CSC Members Senators Kevin Cramer and Martin Heinrich stepped up to the plate and reintroduced that provision as standalone, bipartisan legislation in the Senate last week. The bill, known as the Lake Access Keeping Economies Strong (LAKES Act), will rectify the discrepancy between federal recreation providers by enabling recreation sites and facilities under Corps jurisdiction to retain 80% of recreation fees collected at a particular location for its operation and maintenance. Of note, the bill ensures these fees will supplement, not supplant, existing funding for these facilities.
CSF joined with a broad coalition in a letter of support for the bill’s introduction and will work with the recreational fishing and boating community to identify House supporters to encourage introducing a companion bill in the coming weeks.