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Federal money coming to Vicksburg National Military Park through Great American Outdoors Act

A bill awaiting signature by President Donald Trump will provide funding for much-needed repairs at National Park Service parks including the Vicksburg National Military Park.

The U.S. Senate passed the Great American Outdoors Act in June by a 73-25 vote and the House on Wednesday passed it by a vote of 310-107. U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) was the only member of Mississippi’s House delegation to vote for the bill.

U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) opposed the bill, while U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker voted for it. The bill passed without amendments.

“Now that this legislation will become law, I will do everything I can to see that Mississippi’s national park sites and conservation priorities are properly recognized and treated fairly,” Hyde-Smith said Thursday.

Speaking at ceremonies dedicating the Mississippi Center for Innovation & Technology on February 22, Hyde-Smith said fixing the erosion-damaged roads at the Vicksburg National Military Park would be her top priority.

“I assure you, we will be all over this to try to get these repairs back where we can live with them,” she said at the time. “While we’re here this is our opportunity to get the things repaired that we have been needing for a long time.”

According to sources familiar with the vote on the bill, Hyde-Smith opposed the Great American Outdoors Act for several reasons, including concerns about the mandatory funding mechanism for the Land and Water Conservation Fund and the collapse of the amendment process to improve the bill.  

While she supports the use of revenue derived from energy production on federal lands and waters for a National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund, she and other senators like Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-La.) were not given a chance to improve the bill for Gulf Coast states.

They proposed adding provisions from the COASTAL Act to increase the revenue-sharing percentage from 37.5 percent to 50 percent for Gulf Coast energy-producing states like Mississippi, which would have put them on par with inland energy states and given them more funding for coastal resiliency, conservation, and other uses.

The amendment would have lifted a $500 million cap included in the Gulf of Mexico Energy Security Act. 

According to a summary by the Congressional Research Service, the bill establishes the National Parks and Public Land Legacy Restoration Fund to support deferred maintenance projects on federal lands.

The fund will receive 50 percent of all unallocated revenue from the development of oil, gas, coal, or alternative or renewable energy on federal lands and waters. The deposits are capped at $1.9 billion for any fiscal year.

While information on how much the Vicksburg National Military Park will receive was unavailable, a June online article on the National Parks Conservation Association website indicated the Park Service will receive $1.3 billion over five years for deferred maintenance projects.

Besides the National Park Service, the U.S. Forest Service, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education will benefit from the act.

Bill Justice, superintendent of the Vicksburg National Military Park, declined to comment on the bill, citing National Park Service policy about commenting on pending bills.

“We’re pretty excited about that (the bill),” said Bess Averett, executive director of Friends of the Vicksburg National Military Park and Campaign. “We have a tremendous amount of projects at the Vicksburg National Military Park that fall into the category of deferred maintenance that would be eligible for some of this funding. Our roads and bridges are one of the main ones, so it’s a great opportunity to see some of those repairs happen faster than they probably would have otherwise.”

About John Surratt

John Surratt is a graduate of Louisiana State University with a degree in general studies. He has worked as an editor, reporter and photographer for newspapers in Louisiana, Mississippi and Alabama. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post staff since 2011 and covers city government. He and his wife attend St. Paul Catholic Church and he is a member of the Port City Kiwanis Club.

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