If the Great American Outdoors Act becomes law, Prime Hook and Bombay Hook national wildlife refuges could receive major funding to construct new visitors’ centers.
U.S. Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., visited Prime Hook July 13 to discuss the importance of the act with Al Rizzo, project leader for the Delaware refuge complex, and Art Coppola, Prime Hook manager. Carper is the top Democrat on the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.
The Great American Outdoors Act would provide $900 million per year, without further appropriation and in perpetuity, for the Land and Water Conservation Fund. It would also establish the National Parks and Public Lands Legacy Fund, which would allocate up to $9.5 billion over five years to address deferred maintenance in national parks and other public lands such as refuges.
Carper said the act has passed the Senate and House, and is expected to signed by President Donald Trump.
The senator said it would provide money for the Land and Water Conservation Fund to address deferred maintenance projects on federal lands, including refuges and national parks.
“We have a lot of infrastructure needs and the act could really help us,” Rizzo said.
Already on the drawing board are new visitors’ centers, with a price tag of $7 million to $9 million said Rizzo. The existing Prime Hook center would be demolished and replaced with a new 2,500-square-foot, state-of-the-art facility at the refuge entrance just off Broadkill Road. Rizzo said the new center would provide more space for interactive displays, and design money has already been appropriated.
“And I think we can get this done in one to two years instead of the typical five years we've had to plan for,” he said.
Rizzo said the refuges would compete with other federal lands across the nation, but the projects are high priority in the region.
Rizzo said the act is important because Land and Water funds have never been guaranteed. “This act makes the money permanent and mandatory that it will be funded,” he said.
Carper said refuges and parks have been starved for maintenance money for years. “And it's what tourists from all over the country and world want to visit. They have been chronically underfunded,” Carper said. “This place is a national treasure. We need to preserve this treasure and better educate people why it's so important.”
Land and Water funds have also been used for Delaware state parks projects, including work at Cape Henlopen State Park.
People seek out refuge
Rizzo said while the visitors’ center and programs have been shut down because of the COVID-19 health crisis, the refuge has remained open. “People are seeking out refuge. This has brought a lot of people to our parks and refuges. There is a big increase in demand from the public,” he said.
Prime Hook is in the fifth year of a major marsh restoration project. “It's getting better and better each year,” Rizzo said.
An unfinished project as part of the restoration is a boardwalk to provide access to Fowler Beach. Rizzo said the refuge has not been able to secure the $600,000 needed for the project.
Prime Hook is a 10,000-acre refuge east of Milton sharing a boundary with Delaware Bay. Bombay Hook is a 16,000-acre refuge in eastern Kent County along Delaware Bay.