(Oklahoma City) Environmental problems at a number of state parks can be addressed with the help of a new state law that was approved by the 2002 Oklahoma Legislature, according to the author of the statute in question.
Senator Dave Herbert, chairman of the Senate Tourism Committee, said that SB 1271 authorizes the Oklahoma Tourism and Recreation Commission to initiate a bond issue to address needs under its purview, such as remediation of sewage systems at state parks and recreational areas.
The Department of Environmental Quality recently ordered the state to close restroom facilities at several areas because of recurring sewage problems there.
"Everyone wants to clean up the problems at our state parks as quickly as possible. This new law gives us a way to do that. We won't be able to solve the problems overnight, certainly not in time for the Fourth of July holiday, but we will be able to fix them for the future," said the Midwest City legislator.
SB 1271 by Sen. Herbert and Rep. Kenneth Corn was approved by the Legislature and signed into law by Governor Keating on May 30th, 2002. Because the measure contained an emergency clause, it became law immediately.
The law stipulates that the tourism commission can issue revenue bonds for "lawful purposes," which would include the remediation of sewage problems at several state parks. The statute states that the tourism commission must pay off the bonds with its revenues.
Sen. Herbert said if the department is not able to service the debt with existing funds, the Legislature can appropriate additional money to tourism when it returns for its regular session early next year.
"If they can't pay the freight on their own, we will get them the money for debt service. The first bills on any bond issue won't come due for several months so we will have ample time to approve an appropriation when we return in February. The Senate leadership has assured me that it is supportive of this approach," said Sen. Herbert.
Lawmakers had hoped to address the state park needs with general revenue funds this year, but an unexpected $350 million budget shortfall prevented them from providing additional money to tourism. Instead, the Legislature and Governor Keating opted to protect priority areas such as public education and health care, while instituting cuts in other state agencies.
Given the current state financial woes, Sen. Herbert said a bond issue may be the only feasible way to address the park sewage issues and keep the areas in question open to the public. The legislator plans to work with tourism officials in the coming weeks to expedite such an action.
"The faster we move on this, the better for everyone, especially the people who rely on our state parks for recreation or the spin-off business activity that they generate. The park system is a critical performer in the Oklahoma economy and needs to be in the best shape possible," said Sen. Herbert.