June 3, 2010

The Honorable Terry Branstad

Governor of Iowa

1007 East Grand Avenue
Des Moines, Iowa 50319

Dear Governor Branstad:

There is a very serious water safety concern on the Iowa Great Lakes. The purpose of this letter is to make you aware of the problem and ask for your help to solve the problem. For more than seventy years Water Patrol Officers from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources have provided water safety to Iowans. For each of the last three years the Iowa Great Lakes has had 14 Water Patrol Officers on Iowa’s number one natural resource tourist attraction. This summer the number has been cut to four – a two-thirds reduction in water safety.

These Water Patrol Officers are temporary, hired for only Memorial Day to Labor Day. They are hired to solve the immense summer work load which requires that level of seasonal staffing, but does not warrant the hiring of full time DNR Conservation Officers. These seasonal hires are paid a modest salary but do not receive any fringe benefits and have no continuing cost to the state. As a result the Iowa taxpayer receives good value for their tax dollar.

The funding for these Water Patrol Officers is provided by boat registration fees. Based on 2005 legislation this user fee can be spent solely on water safety and fighting Aquatic Invasive Species. The legislation further specifies that the funds were to be protected in the State Game and Fish Protection Fund. There are no General Funds used to fund water safety protection for the people of Iowa.

This spring – to our horror – we find that for some inexplicable reason the State Game and Fish Protection Fund has a $38.7 M spending cap. Why this user fee based trust fund has a spending cap is a mystery to us. But the result is, according to the DNR, that instead of hiring the 14 Water Patrol Officers the Iowa Great Lakes have had assigned for the last three years, the entire area will be limited to four officers. Incredibly, this includes night patrol coverage, and, of course, this is for a seven day work week.

The travesty is that Iowa boaters have paid a user fee to provide water safety and the fight against Aquatic Invasive Species – and the money has been collected in advance so the money is sitting in a state account that can’t be spent.

Both the House and Senate have passed the DNR and Agriculture Appropriations Bill SF509 that contains a provision to adjust the spending cap to account for changes in expenses. Once the House and Senate have approved the compromise DNR and Agriculture Appropriations Bill we would encourage you to promptly sign the compromise SF509 legislation that has been agreed to by a House and Senate conference committee.

Once we have the immediate problem resolved we would like your further support to permanently eliminate this spending cap on the State Game and Fish Protection Fund which has caused us so much heartburn this spring and summer.

Thank you for your support of water safety for the citizens of Iowa. Any questions or comments about this issue can be directed to Phil Petersen, 2305 Holliday Way, Okoboji, IA 51355 or email philpetersen@mchsi.com –  telephone 712-332-2028.

Respectfully Submitted,

Okoboji Protective Association

East Okoboji Lakes Improvement Corporation

Spirit Lake Protective Association

Iowa Great Lakes Water Safety Council

Iowa Great Lakes Association