The Lake Ouachita Citizens Focus Committee, and Friends of Lake Ouachita
An Overview of LOCFC and FOLO
The Lake Ouachita Citizens Focus Committee (LOCFC), and its financial counterpart Friends of Lake Ouachita, Inc. (FOLO), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization, were created to benefit Lake Ouachita and its visitors by enhancing U.S. Army Corps of Engineers-managed facilities and natural resources. “The mission of the Lake Ouachita Citizen Focus Committee is to review local discretionary initiatives and provide constructive feedback so as to enhance management of the Lake Ouachita Project, and to encourage, initiate, and support projects which benefit the human and non-human populations whose quality of life depends upon the lake.” FOLO’s “purpose” is virtually identical.
Since LOCFC’s inception in 2001, substantial progress has been made in the public/private cooperation between the Corps of Engineers and private organizations. Organizations like the LOCFC and FOLO have developed across the United States and have provided enhancement of local Corps Water Resources Projects.
The Corps’ Vicksburg District’s Project Office, located on Lake Ouachita, operates Lakes Ouachita, DeGray and Greeson. These lakes support over 500 jobs and annually contribute in excess of $94 million dollars of economic benefit to local communities.
While visitors are becoming more sophisticated and come to Corps projects with a much higher level of expectations, government budgets allocated to recreation have been dramatically reduced. These year-over-year budget reductions are adversely impacting not only the specific lake projects, but also budget cuts are negatively impacting the economic well-being of local and state-wide economies.
Since their inception, LOCFC and FOLO have contributed in excess of $1.5 million in tangible services, products, and projects to Lake Ouachita. LOCFC recently celebrated the achievement of one of its long term goals, the completion of the ten-year construction of the 46-mile Lake Ouachita Vista Trail (The LOViT) with an associated 1 mile Fitness Trail and elevated Interpretive Trail. This achievement is a prime example the power of cooperative agreements. Utilizing a coalition of eleven Federal, State, and local organizations and a team of dedicated Traildog volunteers, this prize-winning project was successfully completed in June of 2015. By virtue of hard work and dedication of LOCFC and FOLO members, this project has received numerous local, State, and National Awards.
In 2011, FOLO entered into a Cooperative Joint Management Agreement with the Vicksburg District to Operate the Crystal Springs Recreation Area. In 2012, FOLO signed a supplemental agreement to also operate the Tompkins Bend Recreation Area. In both cases, FOLO, with LOCFC support, was to operate the campgrounds’ fee collection program and manage the areas in the most cost effective and efficient manner, while returning the fees collected back for use at the recreation areas.
During 2011/2012, FOLO collected User Fees in excess of $365,000 and, based on LOCFC recommendations, initiated enhancement projects within both recreation areas. At Crystal Spring, the User Fee revenue supported the installation of a Group Use Area, children’s play equipment with adjacent park benches, enclosures around trash dumpsters, a courtesy dock at the boat ramp, and installation of exhaust fans in area shower facilities. At Tompkins Bend, the User Fee revenue supported the installation of water service to area one campsites, exhaust fans in all shower facilities, children’s play equipment, a 24’X 36’ public use pavilion, and a courtesy dock at the boat ramp. In total, Lake Ouachita’s joint management partnership reinvested 95.3% of collected User Fees in recreation area enhancements.
Regretfully, the Corps of Engineers determined the retention of user fees by non-government organizations was not within their operating guidelines. All joint operating agreements between non-profit organizations and Corp managed recreation areas were rescinded.
In 2014 Congress authorized the Water Resources and Reform Development Act of 2014. Section 1047 of this act provides the opportunity for water resources projects to retain use fees collected at the project and make such funds “available for use, without further appropriation, solely for administering the special permits under this subsection and carrying out related operation and maintenance activities at the site at which the fees are collected.” The use of these funds is determined by the Secretary of the Army, and funds may be used for “enhancing recreation opportunities … to support activities carried out by State, local, and tribal governments and such other public or private nonprofit entities as the Secretary determines to be appropriate.”
By virtue of the aforementioned Act, the LOCFC is actively engaged with the Corps’ lake management team to pursue clarification of the language so that, hopefully, the LOCFC and FOLO may again actively participate in future project-level activities associated with Lake Ouachita.
Following the September 2013 nationwide termination of all joint operating agreements, the LOCFC petitioned its congressional delegation for a change in the Corps operating policy. Arkansas Congressional representatives rose to the challenge. On February 27, 2014, Arkansas Congressman Tom Cotton introduced legislature, co-sponsored by Congressmen Crawford, Griffin and Womack, referred to as the “Local Organization Cooperative Agreement for Land and Facility Maintenance (LOCAL) Act (H.R. 4100)”.
This legislation would allow the Corps of Engineers to restore joint management programs with local non-profit organizations to construct, operate and maintain recreational facilities at Corps lakes and reservoirs. That same day, U.S. Senators John Boozman and Mark Pryor introduced the “Corps of Engineers Cooperative Joint Management Restoration Act (S.2055)” that reestablishes the Corps of Engineers practices that allow cooperating partners to collect and reinvest recreation fees.
If enacted, these Legislative Bills will empower the Corps to resume partnerships with local non-profit organizations in the cooperative joint management of recreation facilities and authorize reinvestment of fees collected to operate and maintain such facilities for public use.
With the passage of the Water Resources and Reform Development Act of 2014 and the potential re-enactment of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act, the future looks promising that LOCFC and FOLO will once again be cooperative partners with the Corps’ management team for Lake Ouachita.
(Additional information regarding LOCFC and FOLO can be found on this U.S. Army Corps of Engineers Website: http://www.mvk.usace.army.mil/Missions/Recreation/LakeOuachita.aspx), and on the Friends of Lake Ouachita Facebook page.