WHAT OTHERS SAY: Don't let lake area suffer

Wednesday, September 25, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

On July 4, 2010, Table Rock Dam opened for tours for the first time since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks in 2001. But if you want to get an inside look at the dam, completed in 1959, you had better do it quick.

Opening the dam back up to tours after the nine-year shutdown was made possible by the hard work of employees and volunteers with the Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation, a nonprofit agency established that same year. The foundation supports the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Table Rock Project Office with marketing, educational endeavors and any other way. Since 2010, the foundation has also maintained the gift shop at the Dewey Short Visitor Center and managed seven Table Rock Lake campgrounds, and the popular Moonshine Beach.

Closing the dam tours —and likely the other areas managed by the foundation — is the result of a decision by the Corps that the original agreement with the foundation, and other such nonprofit agencies around the country, was not within the Corps’ authority. Apparently, taking a closer look at the arrangement, Corps lawyers decided the user fees collected at the locations could not be used by the foundation to fund its work there. Instead, user fees must go to the U.S. Treasury and then be redistributed.

That is a clear example of government bureaucracy at its most dysfunctional.

The Corps originally came up with a workable solution to its own difficulties in managing the lake facilities. The agencies that signed the five-year lease agreements in 2011 believed they were legal and binding, and they set about to work under that assumption. The Corps’ same legal team had apparently vetted those agreements at the time and found them to be legal.

The park user fees collected by the foundation were used on property projects around the lake, which have added more than $1.5 million in value to the Corps’ Table Rock Lake property. The work done at the parks has also focused on customer service, allowing the Corps to focus on its primary job —engineering.

But, without the fees to pay for services and some parks employees, the foundation cannot continue to do its job.

During the past three years, the foundation has made a big impact on the lake and tourism. Besides all the manpower and hours put into the efforts, the foundation has worked with other vendors to provide welcome and needed services — from umbrella rentals to food — to visitors at Moonshine Beach. This action will make that arrangement unworkable.

All that hard work brought more and more tourists, who gladly paid the fees that support the operations.

Everyone has been happy. No one was complaining. No one was threatening a lawsuit.

So, why has any of this happened?

One Corps bigwig has promised a clearer answer to that question, and the Corps has promised to work with the foundation and other agencies to arrange for a new lease agreement.

One example of the confusion surrounding this action became clear when Brig. Gen. Tom Kula announced the immediate cancellation of Table Rock Dam tours, while Sheila Thomas, president of Ozarks Rivers Heritage Foundation, said she got a confirmation from the Corps that the tours could continue while a new agreement was being negotiated.

Thankfully, two senators from opposite sides of the aisle have begun to push to allow the foundation to continue its management and ensure there are no changes to services at the parks. Sens. Roy Blunt, a Republican, and Claire McCaskill, a Democrat, have issued a bipartisan release urging the Corps to avoid the changes.

“Army Corps leadership should be embarrassed by this, and it’s up to them to find a solution that protects folks in this area from service disruptions...” the release says, in part.

We agree wholeheartedly.

Copyright Springfield News-Leader. Reprinted with permission.

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