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Bruce Trautman

Deputy Director of Iowa Department of Natural Resources explains the diversion of funds in the REAP program.

MUSCATINE — South of tow, wading into the waters of Lake Chester, locals have a free beach to relax on. Farther north in the county at the Environmental Learning Center, several exhibits depict the county's unique flora and fauna. In town, West Second Street's J.J. Shafnet house is still standing with all its late Victorian/Italianate detail in tact. 

These are just a few of the projects in Muscatine that were brought to fruition because of funds from the Resource Enhancement and Protection Act or REAP. 

"Our budget is pretty much for maintenance only," Weiss said. "If we want to have new construction, we have to find that money."

Community stakeholders met Thursday at the Environmental Learning Center for an annual informational session given by the Department of Natural Resources. Residents discussed their vision for outdoor recreation, soil and water enhancement, historical resources and land management. 

"This was to inform people about the REAP program," said Curt Weiss, director of the Conservation Board of Muscatine. "At these meetings, delegates are elected to represent our counties and to make suggestions for change to go to the legislature with."

Five delegates were elected. Muscatine County will send Dave Bakke, Jessica Brockett and Joseph Preston. Scott County will send Steve Gustafson and Larry Makoben. These five delegates will go to Des Moines on Jan. 6 to participate in the REAP Congress where they will talk to legislators about what REAP does for the two counties.

Weiss explained that the conservation board is one of the many destinations that these dollars are diverted to and that it gets around $25,000 a year. Sometimes, this money goes directly toward laying a new trail or constructing a new bathroom.

Some project costs are more manageable than others. In 2015, the Deep Lakes Park beach, for example, received $25,000 in REAP funds for the project. In 2009, $45,000 went toward the new bathrooms at Discovery Park.

But bigger projects require more zeros. The exhibits at the Environmental Learning Center used $180,000 in REAP funds. For large price tag projects like this, the Board can put aside REAP funds similar to a savings account and wait for contributions to accumulate. 

"Contributions to the fund range from year to year," Weiss said. "The last put in was around $22,000. But it varies from year to year. We've gone from as little as $15,000 in one year to getting $27,000 the next. That can mean quite a bit of difference to us."

Currently, the Conservation Board of Muscatine is sitting on $118,000 that they will apply to future projects. 

"We’ve seen a lot of projects happen in our community that wouldn’t have happened otherwise," Weiss said. "Would we like it to be fully funded? Sure. Are we happy with what we are getting? Sure."