RD816 - Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources Stakeholder Workgroup on Access Fees for Human-Powered Crafts: Final Report – October 13th, 2021

Executive Summary:

At the direction of the Virginia General Assembly, the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources (VDWR) has convened a workgroup to develop a set of recommendations on access permit fees and other alternatives for use of public-access boat ramps by human-powered crafts. Selected workgroup members represented a range of stakeholders from both private and public sectors and included outdoor educators, commercial outfitters, river conservation advocates, municipal officials, and tourism representatives. To develop final recommendations, VDWR hosted three stakeholder workgroup sessions to inform workgroup members of their legislative responsibilities and identify opportunities for various funding mechanisms as well as discuss other issues related to the use and maintenance of Department-owned boat ramp facilities. The Performance Management Group (PMG) within VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs facilitated these sessions to help guide a collaborative yet productive working process. All meetings were open and available to the public, with two community members opting to participate as public observers.

The goals of the three workgroup session meetings were as follows:

1) Introduce and familiarize members with the workgroup scope & focus.

2) Present relevant VDWR data to help inform group recommendations.

3) Collect preliminary feedback from workgroup members on cost-sharing and alternative mechanisms.

4) Develop a final set of recommendations that reflects workgroup and VDWR agency priorities, needs, and long-term goals.

Throughout the workgroup session meetings, stakeholders emphasized the shared belief that recreational paddlers and commercial outfitters should not be charged user access fees due to the following concerns:

1. Charging user fees dis-incentivizes recreational use of waterways throughout the Commonwealth, creating unnecessary barriers to outdoor experiences.

2. The costs and logistics of fee collection could outweigh potential revenues generated from fees.

3. While annual VDWR revenues slightly exceed expenditures, current needs still exceed revenues. Sufficient funding for maintenance and renovation of publicly owned access ramps exists within authorized Watercraft Sales and Use (WSU) and other Sales and Use Tax revenues, and therefore should be fully appropriated to VDWR annually.

4. There is insufficient input from the paddling community into expenditures as compared to other users.

Based on these reservations, stakeholders advise the General Assembly to 1) repeal House Bill (HB) 1604 to lift the mandate of user access fees for paddlers and 2) revise legislative language in the Budget Bill 1800 (Item 384(A)) to ensure all transfer funds from House Bill (HB) 38 are fully appropriated to VDWR and further to update the $13 million cap on those transfer funds found in § 58.1-638(E), and 3) revise legislative language in the Budget Bill (§ 3-1.01) to ensure that all Watercraft Sales and Use Tax transfer funds, including those in excess of projections, are received by the agency. This report presents a summary of the information reviewed by the workgroup, as well as an overview of the themes and various alternatives to a user access fee structure discussed by stakeholders.