The Cauley Creek Park Development is still on the list of potential projects to be funded by the Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program grant. The 200-acre facility on the Chattahoochee River comes with a funding request of $3 million.  CITY OF JOHNS CREEK
Photo: For the AJC
Photo: For the AJC

State budgeting error puts conservation projects on hold

A calculation error at the state Department of Revenue has left several conservation projects across the state looking for other sources of funding. 

The oversight board for the state’s Outdoor Stewardship program in late January cut the number of projects that had received preliminary approval when funding came up short by about $14 million. 

Several projects that had been candidates for funding had to be removed from the list including $2.1 million for the Marsh Creek Greenway project in Sandy Springs and $500,000 for the Chattahoochee Nature Center. 

“Sandy Springs has an earned reputation for implementing the master plans it creates to enhance the community,” said Sharon Kraun, spokesperson for the city. “We will continue to seek support funding through available grants and the city’s annual budgeting process.” 

The Georgia Outdoor Stewardship Program (GOSP) was designed to provide funding to state parks, state lands and wildlife management areas, as well as, support local parks and trails. 

In 2018, just over 80% of voters approved the program which uses revenue from sales tax on sporting goods and outdoor equipment to fund conservation projects. This is the first funding cycle for the program which launched on July 1. 

Projects will receive final approval by this summer and must be completed within 24 months. Funding amounts range from $500,000 to $3 million and require a match of at least 25%. 

In a January 30 letter released by the Georgia Conservancy, Jessica Simmons, Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Revenue indicated there had been a mistake in calculating the amount of available funds for projects that had already received preliminary approval. 

State officials had calculated the initial available funding as $34 million, but that number was based on 40% of applicable state and local taxes of $88 million. They should have used only the applicable state taxes, not local, in the calculation. The corrected numbers, 40% of $48 million, brought the level of funding down to about $20 million. 

The 12-foot wide Marsh Creek trail —a priority project for Sandy Springs— follows the path of Marsh Creek west and intersects with Glenridge Drive. The city needed to acquire two acres of land for the trail which will also feature areas for fishing, nature observation and green education. 

“While the lack of grant funding will obviously slow efforts to provide non-vehicular options to Sandy Springs commuters, the City Council is committed to the execution of the Trail Master Plan,” Kraun said. 

Projects that are still candidates to receive funding through the Outdoor Stewardship program include $3 million for Cauley Creek Park Development in the city of Johns Creek and $1 million for the Atlanta Beltline Westside Trail Extension.

LEAF interns conduct gopher tortoise monitoring, which includes locating, measuring and marking burrows at Charles Harrold Preserve in eastern Georgia. The threatened gopher tortoise (Gopherus polyphemus) is considered a keystone species because its burrows provide shelter for hundreds of other animal species. 
Photo: Karine Aigner/Karine Aigner

State projects that are likely to receive funds include $3.5 million for the Department of Natural Resources to acquire part of the Ceylon Property, an area on the coast targeted to protect the state’s gopher tortoise populations and $60,000 to restore Longleaf Pine destroyed by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

>>READ MORE: Acres of Georgia coastline purchased for conservation

“There, understandably have been a lot of disappointed people,” said Mike Worley of the Georgia Wildlife Federation. “Anytime you are moving along and have made announcements to the public, to your supporters and the grantor comes back and says, ‘We messed up’…it disappoints folks and raises concerns.”

But Worley said, “while some people are disappointed, this initiative is making a real difference. These dollars are doing good things in our state and projects are still being funded ... when it is all said and done we still have $20 million that will do great things for conservation and for those that love our outdoors.”

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