Despite months of lobbying, the Augusta Canal National Heritage Area’s flow of federal money is set to expire Sept. 30, with future payments more in limbo than ever.
“There has been quite a bit of activity but nothing concrete yet,” said Dayton Sherrouse, the Augusta Canal Authority’s executive director. “It may even be next year before we know anything.”
When Congress created the heritage area legislation in 1996, it included a sunset clause to halt National Park Service funding to Augusta and 11 other sites after 16 years.
Efforts to renew or extend the law have not been successful, and Congress – moving more slowly during a presidential election year – has not adopted a fiscal year 2013 budget.
Sherrouse said it is possible – but not certain – that the “continuing resolution” that allows the government to keep operating under the previous year’s budget until a new one is adopted could preserve Augusta’s allocation for next year.
This year, that allocation was slightly more than $300,000, making up about 20 percent of the canal authority’s annual operating budget. Other funding sources include grants, sale of hydropower from the canal’s turbines, and revenues from boat tours and other activities.
Even if the funding were formally restored in some future budget, across-the-board cuts at the federal level would likely cut those allocations by 10 percent or more, he said.
The heritage area concept is to use federal resources as leverage to preserve and improve significant areas by stimulating involvement from local and state agencies.
In the 16 years since the canal heritage area was designated, it has received $5.8 million from the park service, though the legislation allows up to $1 million each year with a long-term total limit of $15 million.
Audited expenditures found that the canal authority has spent $26.4 million since 1998 on direct support to the heritage area and its programs, with only 19 percent from National Park Service funding.