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Marine Fuel Tax Revamp to Generate Funds for Boat Access

 The Arkansas Game and Fish Commission unanimously approved authorization for an agreement with the Arkansas Department of Transportation to update the existing Marine Fuel Tax program to enhance public boating access in the state.

“From the community perspective, the two largest things we provide to Arkansans are our game wardens and public access to land and water throughout The Natural State,” AGFC Director Booth told commissioners during recent committee meetings. “This modernization can help us better serve Arkansans by not only broadening the aperture on how much money we can invest in this sort of access, but also broadening the aperture of what we can do.”

The Marine Fuel Tax Program was created in 1970 through cooperation between ArDOT and the AGFC to collect a portion of taxes on gasoline purchases devoted to boats and apply those funds toward waterway public access. Traditionally, MFT funds could be used only on boat ramps, parking areas and roads devoted to those boat ramps.

The money was administered by ArDOT after projects were approved by the AGFC. Local partners were required to contribute matching funds or in-kind contributions to ensure local commitment to the project was healthy.

AGFC Chief of Staff Chris Racey said the Marine Fuel Tax Program delivers about $1.7 million a year for these construction projects to Arkansans, but there are more opportunities available.

“We’ve been able to deliver more than $65 million in access projects through this program since 1970, and that’s great, but the formulas used to generate those numbers are based on calculations made in 1967 when the program was being established,” Racey said. “We all know a lot has changed since then in how our constituents use our public waters and in the benefits we can offer them.”

Racey said updated calculations developed by ArDOT engineers project funding for the program at close to $3.7 million a year.

“The inter-agency working team discussed a lot of things that have changed over time and potential needs that have developed for boating access users since 1967,” Racey said. “Recreational boats have much larger motors than in 1967. Additionally, we have boaters who use kayaks and canoes who load them up in the back of a truck or on top of an SUV and drive to those accesses. There are just a lot more ways fuel is being used for boating than the traditional model was designed for.”

The modernized agreement not only will increase the amount of funding for the Marine Fuel Tax program, but it will give the AGFC and its partners more flexibility in the way those funds are spent.

“We’ll now be able to look at other aspects of public boating access,” Racey said. “Things like restrooms, kayak launches, fighting aquatic nuisance species at boat ramps, bank stabilization projects and other projects that can improve people’s ability to enjoy our waters.”

The new agreement would also transfer the administration of Marine Fuel Tax funds to the AGFC, and would create a position within the agency to develop and track the projects. This will reduce the complexity of approving and administering MFT projects and provide an additional level of oversight and accountability for the projects’ contractors.

Booth noted the amount of work within the AGFC and ArDOT to bring the modernization to fruition.

“We’d be remiss if we did not thank [former AGFC Director] Pat Fitts for his vision to take an existing asset that the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had and shared with ArDOT and reinvent that to address the needs of the agency, but also the desires of Arkansans in the 21st century,” Booth said.

Jan 5, 2022 -  

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