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New Law Proposes Changes in White Lake Management
On a 103 -1 vote, the Louisiana House of Representatives concurred with the Senate (which voted 34-0 earlier in the session) that the management of the White Lake Preserve should be the responsibility of a state agency rather than a private corporation. SB 118, authored by Senators Joe McPherson and Nick Gautreaux, establishes a dedicated trust fund to finance the administration of the property using self-generated revenues, grants and donations, creates an advisory board to guide White Lake management, and transfers management of the property to the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The bill was signed by the Governor on July 5, 2004 and designated Act 613.
The 71,000-acre complex of fresh water marsh, open water and agricultural fields was donated to the state in July of 2002 by BP America Production Company, but the gift garnered only tepid acclaim from the media and a public skeptical with the idea of private management, without accountability, of public wildlife conservation land. The unprecedented deal raised legal and policy questions that provoked enactment of law last year requiring legislative approval before the state can accept similar donations in the future. But separate bills by Senators Hines, McPherson and Ullo, aimed at rectifying the White Lake scheme, failed to pass the Senate under pressure from then governor Mike Foster. This time it was different as Governor Blanco expressed her strong support for the legislation as it made its way through the House of Representatives.
Act 613 establishes the White Lake Property Fund (Fund) in the Conservation Fund to provide a secure depository for funds dedicated to the operation and management of the property. The legislation directs that all revenue received by the state that is derived from the property be deposited to the Fund, along with any private donations and public contributions made to the property. Monies in the Fund will be available only for the administration, operation, maintenance, management and enhancement of the White Lake property and to promote its wildlife and ecosystem conservation, education and research purposes. The legislation also establishes the White Lake Property Advisory Board within the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries. The board will consist of up to 13 voting members, a minimum of 7 having expertise in scientific disciplines pertinent to the management and conservation of the natural resources found on the White Lake property. The board will guide the operation and management of the property, and money appropriated from the Fund must be consistent with the recommendations of the board.
Act 613 addresses the issues pertinent to the White Lake controversy. It:
- provides for the security of private funds donated for the operation of White Lake;
- resolves the legal question of a private entity receiving and expending revenues derived from a state asset without legislative oversight or appropriation by giving that responsibility to an agency of state government that is subject to legislative oversight and the appropriations process;
- provides for public participation in the management and operation of this 71,000 acre, state-owned wildlife conservation area and reestablishes the Legislature?s rightful oversight role;
- establishes an advisory board with scientific and technical expertise to guide the management of the property;
- is consistent with the property donor?s stated willingness to consider management alternatives for the property;
- makes a strong commitment to manage the property in the best interests of Louisiana?s citizens and wildlife resources.
The establishment of the White Lake Property Advisory Board may proceed upon signature of the Governor. The other provisions of the legislation creating a trust fund and providing for management of the property by the Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries will not go into effect until January 1, 2005. This will give the state time to redraw the agreements with the donor and resolve any matters between BP, the private corporation created to manage the property under Governor Foster, White Lake Preservation, Inc., and the state that are necessary to implement the trust fund and new management structure for the property.