Mark your calendar for 2009 Governor’s Rural & Regional Development Conference

Save the date for the 2009 Governor’s Rural and Regional Development Conference, which will be held August 26-28, 2009 at the Wigwam Resort in Litchfield Park.  This year’s conference will examine opportunities and initial progress resulting from Arizona’s share of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.  Additional sessions include an update on the national, state and regional economies; Arizona’s competitiveness in site selection and incentives; renewable energies, and more.

The conference is a partnership between the Arizona Department of Commerce and the Arizona Association for Economic Development.  Registration will begin in June, and updates will be posted at the Department of Commerce’s website.

Arizona Heritage Alliance opposes State Parks “sweep” of already-underway Heritage Fund grant projects

The following letter was sent to Arizona Governor Jan Brewer by Arizona Heritage Alliance Board President, Elizabeth Woodin:

March 26, 2009

The Honorable Jan Brewer
Governor, State of Arizona
1700 W. Washington St.
Phoenix, AZ 85007

Dear Governor Brewer:

On behalf of the Board of Directors of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, I wish to commend you for signing the Executive Order of March 12, 2009 reestablishing the Governor’s Sustainable State Parks Task Force.  You have charged this group with a daunting, but necessary, task.  We can hope that they, with solid public input, develop and recommend some very innovative and workable solutions.

By way of background, the Alliance is comprised of hundreds of individuals, non-profit organizations, government entities, tribes, and businesses that work to educate the public and Alliance members about the Arizona Heritage Fund as well as protect the Fund’s integrity and effectiveness.

As you are aware, the Arizona Heritage Fund was voter-initiated in 1988 and approved by two-thirds of the electorate in 1990.  Backed with Arizona Lottery proceeds, the Fund is a nationally acclaimed “quality of life” and economic development tool that supports and protects our state’s parks, open space, wildlife habitat, environmental education, trails, historic and cultural sites, and public access to public land.  Since 1990, more than $338.5 million of Heritage Funds have been invested in preserving and enhancing an incredible array of natural, cultural, and recreational resources in every Arizona county and legislative district.  The economic multiplier factor brings that number up close to $1 billion.

Unfortunately, at a time of unprecedented financial shortfall, our state government approved this January:

  • Huge “sweeps” of numerous funds, including nearly $6 million in Arizona State Parks’ Heritage Funds.
  • A reallocation of $3 million of Heritage Funds to the Arizona State Lands Department for its Fire Suppression Fund, money that department officials said at a recent JLBC hearing they do not need.
  • Cancellation or suspension of $11.7 million worth of Heritage Fund projects in 25 Arizona communities already contracted for and underway ~ more than shovel-ready!

Regarding this last bullet point, dozens of private citizens, non-profit organizations, and local government and tribal officials have contacted the Alliance and expressed absolute frustration with the desperate and dismaying action taken by Arizona State Parks.  Many are “on the hook” with signed agreements they cannot keep without the funds, as well as half-restored and roofless historic properties, half-built park structures that are now an eyesore and possible safety hazard, and fragile archaeological artifacts that now are not in compliance with federal standards.  In addition, these projects help to bring in construction jobs and tourism dollars.  The multiplier effect of the economic impact of these projects to communities, urban and rural, is significant.

Although Arizona State Parks was backed into an untenable situation by the State Legislature’s removal of its funding, both General Fund and Heritage, its action to remove Heritage Fund monies from grantees is unprofessional and shameful.  This is no way to approach the celebration of Arizona’s Centennial in 2012.

These individuals, non-profits, municipalities, and tribes who followed the rules, dotted their “I’s” and crossed their “T’s,” were awarded and accepted grants in good faith from Arizona State Parks — only to have the money stripped away mid-stream.  Here are just a few examples:

  • Renovations to the “White Dove of the Desert,” San Xavier del Bac Mission in Tucson
  • Improvements to the Ed Hooper Rodeo Grounds in Casa Grande
  • Over $600,000 of upgrades to Bullhead City’s Rotary Soccer Field
  • Stabilization of the historic Sullivan Building in Jerome
  • Roof repairs to the historic structure now home to the Great Arizona Puppet Theater in Phoenix

And there are many other examples as outlined in the attached list compiled by Arizona State Parks staff.

Recommendations to reconcile $11.7 million in rescinded Arizona Heritage Fund grants:

  • Several of your colleagues in the State Legislature agree that the $3 million in Fire Suppression Funds should be returned, and we are working with them to make that happen. When returned to Arizona State Parks, the funds should be directed to complete the “suspended” grant projects.
  • While there will not be an Arizona Heritage Fund grant cycle in 2009, there will be a $10 million allotment from the Arizona Lottery to Arizona State Parks.  That $10 million can also be directed to the “suspended” grant projects.

What is not a long-term solution to replenish “swept” Arizona Heritage Funds and Arizona State Park operating funds is HB2088.  It borrows from another voter-initiated, passed, and protected fund in ways that Arizona voters did not approve.  As the Arizona Heritage Fund is similar in concept, the Arizona Heritage Alliance cannot support HB2088.  In addition to “robbing Peter to pay Paul,” many consider the actions recommended in HB2088 to be unconstitutional which could bring about an expensive, lengthy, and divisive legal challenge.

We would welcome the opportunity to sit down with you and members of your staff to discuss these and other options available.  We can also offer you a tour of several “swept” Heritage Fund projects, which will make you feel even more proud to be an Arizonan.

Thank you for your consideration in this matter and for your commitment to serve Arizona.  If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact me.

Sincerely yours,

Elizabeth T. Woodin

Arizona biologists begin monitoring collared jaguar

Animal determined to be oldest known jaguar in the wild.

[Source: Arizona Game & Fish] — Early data received from the tracking device on the recently captured and collared jaguar in Arizona is already giving biologists a better understanding of the cat’s movement and foraging patterns.  With nearly a week’s worth of data, the Arizona Game and Fish Department noted that the jaguar moved several miles after collaring to a very high and rugged area that the cat has been known to use in southern Arizona.  The animal has stayed in that general vicinity for a few days with apparent patterns of rest and visits to a nearby creek.  During the collaring, the cat appeared to have just fed on prey, which will aid its recovery and allow it to go for a period of time without feeding.

The satellite tracking technology will allow biologists to study diet and feeding patterns to learn more about the ecological requirements of the species in borderland habitats.  Scientists have also confirmed the identification of the collared animal: The cat is Macho B, an older male cat that has been photographed by trail cameras periodically over the past 13 years…

This conservation effort is funded in part by the Heritage Fund and Indian gaming revenue.  Started in 1990, the Heritage Fund was established by Arizona voters to further conservation efforts in the state including protecting endangered species, educating our children about wildlife, helping urban residents to better coexist with wildlife and creating new opportunities for outdoor recreation.  Funding comes from Arizona Lottery ticket sales.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]

San Xavier could be hurt by decision that saves Arizona state parks

Budget sweeps caused group restoring San Xavier Mission to lose a grant for east tower restoration. (Photo: Jonathan J. Cooper)

[Source: Jonathan J. Cooper, Cronkite News Service] — Late last year, crews removed scaffolding that covered the west tower of San Xavier Mission.  Preservation experts had spent years removing a concrete coating, replacing disintegrating brick and restoring the original lime mortar cover.  

Restoration work was supposed to move this year to the mission’s east tower, where the structure is disintegrating from the inside. But the scaffolding could stay on the ground and the tower could continue to slowly crumble now after lawmakers closing the state’s budget deficit swept millions from a fund that had committed $150,000 in lottery proceeds to the work here.  “The whole thing is frustrating because you want to believe the state lives up to its word,” said Vernon Lamplot, executive director of Patronato San Xavier, a nonprofit organization created to restore the 212-year-old mission south of Tucson.

An Arizona icon dubbed “The White Dove of the Desert,” San Xavier stands a vision of contrasts.  One tower is gleaming white, while the other has yellowing paint and mold.  The exterior is cracked, with stucco falling from the brick walls.  The restoration at San Xavier is one of about 120 projects, some already under way, that stand to lose grants from the Heritage Fund, which designates up to $20 million of state lottery revenue annually for parks, trails, historic preservation, and wildlife conservation.  Voters created the fund in 1990.

There is some hope for the grants.  A bill by Rep. Warde Nichols, R-Chandler, was amended to reallocate money to help prevent some state parks from closing and, among other things, replace the $4.9 million swept from the Heritage Fund.  A House committee endorsed the bill, but it would require a three-quarters vote from both chambers to pass.  The plan may prove unpopular because it would take the money from the Growing Smarter Fund voters created in 1998 to conserve land.

The dozens of Heritage Fund grants around Arizona are especially important now to stimulate the economy and encourage tourism, said Doris Pulsifer, grants director for Arizona State Parks, which administers much of the money.  “To develop these projects provides jobs because someone has to go out there and build them,” she said.  “And money is spent on the equipment and the materials.”

Dennis Hoffman, an economics professor at Arizona State University’s W.P. Carey School of Business, said the Heritage Fund grants probably do create some jobs and have a small economic benefit.  But he said it’s hard to argue that one state program is more beneficial than another as they all fight for a dwindling number of dollars.  “You’ve got a million ducks fighting over two croutons,” Hoffman said.  “We need more croutons.  There’s just not enough money going around to fund everything that most Arizonans would agree needs to be funded.”

Beth Woodin, president of the Arizona Heritage Alliance, an organization that lobbies the Legislature to continue supporting the Heritage Fund, said the sweep shows a lack of commitment to historic preservation, parks, and wildlife.  “It would seem that sane and reasonable and educated people would care about the Heritage Fund,” she said.  [Note: To read the full article, click here.]