Lodge plan could solve state park budget woes - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

Lodge plan could solve state park budget woes

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MONTGOMERY, AL (WSFA) -

A solution to a budget crunch involving the state park system may come on the Gulf Coast. State leaders are touting a plan to build a lodge and conference center at Gulf State Park in Baldwin County.

"And if we get that through, there would be adequate money available to fund all the parks in this state," said Gov. Robert Bentley.

Curtis Jones, Deputy Commissioner of the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources, said a plan by state legislators to divert millions from the department to the General Fund could lead to layoffs and possible park closures.  Conversation is not funded by the General Fund.

"So many of our funds are constitutionally protected, because we get federal matching dollars," Jones said. "When they take funds from us and our total budget, then parks is going to be the dominant division that's going to have to take the cut."

Bills in the State House and Senate would remove legal obstacles to the plans for Gulf State Park, which the Department supports. 

"Gulf State Park is a destination park. Everybody wants to go to the beach. And even with park like it is, it makes a profit," Jones said.

A proposal to lease a waterfront portion of the park to Auburn University so that a private hotel could be developed, was blocked during the Riley Administration. The Supreme Court ruled it violated state law. Charley Grimsley, the former Conservation Commissioner who filed the suit, said the current plan is also bad for the state.

"It's certainly the most valuable and beloved piece of land that the people of Alabama own," Grimsley said in a phone interview. "And their idiotic argument is that we've got to give away the most valuable piece of land that the people own to develop it."

The proposal has passed committees in the House and Senate. 

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