parks

Will Congress finally pay up on parks promise?

More than four decades ago, Congress made a promise to the American people: In exchange for letting oil companies drill offshore in federal waters -- with the inevitable environmental harm involved -- the people would get oil-company funding to build parks and preserve environmentally sensitive lands.

That was the promise. But in the decades since, Congress has forked out the $900 million a year only one time. Instead of spending about $31 billion, Congress has come up with just $15 billion, a Congressional Research Service report states.

That could change. We'll see if it's just windmill-tilting, but this week U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico and Max Baucus of Montana filed legislation to fix that. Their bill would  theoretically obligate Congress to fork over the full $900 million every year. It's a little unclear how a current Congress could obligate a future Congress -- that's a no-no constitutionally, the way I understand it -- but color me interested.

According to a New York Times editorial (the only MSM article I could find; if you're going to have just one article in the MSM about something, that's not a bad one to have... but still, this deserves more coverage) U.S. Rep. Nick Rahall is pushing the same idea in the House.

Now, we'll have more to say about the Land and Water Conservation Fund in the next little while, but for now just know that we're keeping an eye on this. If you have some information about how this is going in D.C., or how LWCF money could be -- or is -- used in your community, please get in touch. I'm at rmcclure (at) invw.org. This pot of money has provided more than 42,000 grants to state and local governments, and protected more than 5 million acres. Let me know how it's going out there.

As homeless tolls rise, so does the need for a solution

Nine bodies of homeless men have been found outdoors in and around Anchorage since May of this year, with the latest discovered this weekend, reports Kyle Hopkins in one of a series of stories in the Anchorage Daily News. The most recent man had been dead for several days before discovery. Police report no signs of foul play, but don't yet know his cause of death.

Four of the previous deaths were alcohol-related, but no other links between all the bodies are apparent. Four of the men were Native Alaskans, spurring talk that the deaths were racially-motivated killings, but so far no evidence has been released to back this up. One man was robbed and beaten to death in Centennial Park by two 18-year-olds who stole a duffel bag, $7 and beer. They have been charged with second-degree murder. Police say at least one of the teenagers was living at a camp in the park as well.

The cluster of deaths highlights a growing problem. Following recession and “gentrification” of downtown Anchorage, the number of homeless people in the city increased 35 percent from last year to almost 3000. Only about 13 percent are substance abusers or chronic inebriates. And with shelters overflowing, the question now is, where are these people going to go?

The police say they would like to get homeless people out of camps and into a centralized location, perhaps a tent city, similar to what Seattle did with their “housing first” plan where they set people up with housing without requiring them to halt substance abuse first.