If there is one thing Louisianians despise more than amendments, it is the diversion of funds away from their intended purposes. Amendment 8 falls into that category and would establish the Artificial Reef Development Fund and prohibits its money from being used for any purpose other than the program’s intent.

In 2009 and 2011, a combined $44.6 million was swept from “Rigs to Reefs.” In 2013, the Legislature intervened to stop another sweep. These funds are still currently vulnerable to another diversion going forward if Amendment No. 8 fails.

The reason it is important to protect these funds is economical and environmental. This program is funded by private companies whose rigs have been decommissioned. By law and in response to the BP oil spill, platforms must be removed one year after production stops if no future utility can be proven as part of the federal government’s “idle-iron initiative.” This is a costly endeavor to undertake, especially as revenues from a particular rig are drying up. In 1986, the state created the “Rigs to Reefs” program to keep this idle-iron in the Gulf. Over the years, these rigs have become artificial habitats for various species of marine life. Now more than ever, this program is vital to Louisiana as half of the rigs in the Gulf are at risk of being decommissioned within the next five years. Without the help of this program, these artificial reefs could be lost forever.

In return for the ability to keep the structure in the Gulf, companies donate half of the money that would have been spent on removing the platform to the state. These dollars serve to maintain the reefs, administer the program and facilitate the creation of other artificial reefs around Louisiana. Not protecting these funds endangers two critical aspects of the program.

First, what confidence does it give a company to know its donation for a particular purpose is not guaranteed to be used for that purpose? I believe a lack of trust in this program could cause many to second-guess participating in the program, thus stunting the progress we have made.

Secondly, the state should be in the business of enhancing our fisheries. This program is a proven way to do that. Anglers and divers from around the country come to Louisiana to enjoy the benefits of what this program has created.

This is not a situation of public funds in one area being diverted to another. That happens all of the time in government and must be done to balance budgets. This is different. These private funds serve a noble, public purpose and should remain where intended.

On Election Day, the choice is simple. Protecting the “Rigs to Reefs” program is a win-win for both our bountiful resources and an industry that is vital to our economy. Please vote yes on Amendment 8.

Bret Allain

state senator, District 21