"Protecting the lakes is of special concern to residents of northeast Indiana given the many lakes in the region and the tourism dollars those lakes attract. Ask the residents of Grand Lake St. Marys how important protecting the lakes are. That community lost about $160 million in tourism revenue in 2010 because an algae bloom made even boating on the lake unsafe."
It appears nobody wants to take the blame for diverting money collected to protect Indiana lakes and rivers and instead using it to pump up the state’s general fund balance.
Fees collected from Hoosier boat owners finance the Indiana Department of Natural Resources’ Lake and River Enhancement fund. The money is designated specifically for improving lakes and rivers because their health is crucial to recreational enjoyment. If lakes become contaminated or if invasive species are allowed to overtake a river, people will not want to go for a boat ride and anglers will look elsewhere.
Although LARE money is supposed to support projects to improve and protect lakes and rivers, in 2010, state leaders sent $2.4 million from the dedicated fund back to the general fund. And this year state legislators passed, and the governor signed, House Bill 1343, expanding the types of projects that qualify for grants from the already diminished LARE fund.
The diverted dollars helped Gov. Mitch Daniels and the General Assembly claim credit for balancing the state budget. But who would want to accept responsibility for the harm the depleted fund is having on area lakes and rivers?
The fees are still being collected and generate about $3.7 million a year. A third of the money is supposed to be used for law enforcement and water safety education, a third for control of invasive aquatic weed control and sediment removal, and a third for watershed projects to reduce water pollution.
When asked during a radio interview in LaGrange about the LARE money, Daniels said it was a legislative decision to divert the funds to balance the state budget and that “it wasn’t our suggestion.”
But state legislators from both sides of the aisle made comments earlier that indicated the decision was the governor’s and not theirs.
“Indiana boaters willingly pay a fee on their annual registration because the money is supposed to go toward improving the quality of lakes and rivers,” said Rep. Nancy Dembowski, D-Knox, in a Feb. 3 press release protesting the diversion of the LARE funds. “Instead, the governor used that money to shore up other areas of the state budget. I cannot guess why the administration chose to pick on boaters for this reason, but I can tell you that the people who regularly use the 27 lakes in the House district I represent are pretty upset about it.”
Sens. Sue Glick, R-LaGrange, and Dennis Kruse, R-Auburn, also fought the governor on the effort to redirect the lake protection money.
At an event in January, Glick said, “It should be used for its intended purpose.” And Kruse said, “I disagree with (Daniels) taking the LARE funds.”
Protecting the lakes is of special concern to residents of northeast Indiana given the many lakes in the region and the tourism dollars those lakes attract. Ask the residents of Grand Lake St. Marys how important protecting the lakes are. That community lost about $160 million in tourism revenue in 2010 because an algae bloom made even boating on the lake unsafe.
By The Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette