Congaree trail (copy) (copy)

Elevated boardwalks at Congaree National Park make walking easy in wet months. The park exists in part thanks to the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund.

Congress has revived the fund that paid for a public pier on Charleston Harbor, a golf course in Mount Pleasant, walkways on Folly Beach and countless other outdoor improvements in South Carolina.

The Senate on Tuesday overwhelmingly passed the Natural Resources Act that includes the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The fund has been critical to state conservation efforts but it expired at the end of 2018 amid fears it would be left to die.

The 92-to-8 vote sends the measure back to the House, where it previously was approved and also is largely supported. With broad outdoors and sportsman lobby support, the act appears to be on its way to law. Advocates said they did not expect it to be vetoed.

"I am pleased to see the Senate reauthorized the Land and Water Conservation Fund with broad bipartisan support and look forward doing the same in the House,” said Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-Charleston.

Cunningham replaced former Rep. Mark Sanford, who had championed the fund and pushed hard for it at the end of his term in December. Cunningham also has championed the fund.

“The Land and Water Conservation Fund enriches the lives of those in the Lowcountry by investing in the local parks, trails, public lands and outdoors spaces that contribute to our unique way of life," he said.

The act drew an unusual range of support across outdoors sports industries, hunting and fishing groups as well as conservationists.

The Outdoor Recreation Roundtable, a coalition of outdoors industries that account for nearly $900 billion in consumer spending per year, called it momentous.

"This legislative package includes a wide range of provisions that will enhance recreational fishing access on public lands and promote conservation of our nation’s public resources," said Mike Leonard, government affairs vice president for the American Sportfishing Association, a coalition member.

Because of support like that, "I think the momentum is on the side of this bill," said John Tynan, executive director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, who also has pushed for the fund.

During the legislative retooling of the act, "poison pill" amendments were eliminated that would have stopped its passage, Tynan said.

"The fund touches almost every county in every state in the nation. People like it and they want to see more of it," he said.

The Land and Water Conservation Fund, which technically expired in early December, is a half-century-old appropriation of revenue from oil and gas drilling. It uses a part of oil and natural gas royalties to support the protection and development of natural areas, water resources and cultural heritage.

The act the Senate passed calls for the fund to receive three percent of the royalties, or at least $15 million per year.

The fund has paid out $295 million over the past 50 years in South Carolina alone, going to improve local state and national parks across the state, as well as foster woodland and habitat projects.

Among those have been 23 parks inside the city of Charleston alone, as well as boat ramps and channel markers in Berkeley County.

Federal legislators had been divided over just where the money should be spent. A bipartisan compromise late last year that would have renewed it wasn't acted on by the Senate during squabbling over the federal budget and the looming shutdown.

Whether President Donald Trump would veto it has been anybody's guess. The budget originally proposed by Trump called for cutting it 90 percent.

"It's hard to tell if the path forward (for the act) will be easy or hard," said Kevin Bishop, a spokesman for Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who recently has supported Trump moves.

But the support in Congress now appears broad enough to override a veto.

"We are extremely optimistic," Tynan said.

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Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

Science and environment reporter. Author of Washing Our Hands in the Clouds.

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