Our Opinion: Overdue DCR crackdown on deadbeat tenants

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The state Department of Conservation and Recreation (DCR) is perennially strapped for money, and it is frustrating that some deep-pocketed corporations are contributing to the problem by not paying money they owe the state. It's frustrating too that the DCR has taken so long to crack down on deadbeat tenants, but better late than never.

According to Commonwealth Magazine, the agency — the largest landowner in the commonwealth — is owed $422,000 in back rent by 30 public and private sector entities, from utility companies, to renters of cottages, food concessions and skating rinks. Such deadbeats include prominent corporations like AT&T, Verizon, National Grid and Eversource that establish towers on state land. When such companies themselves are repeatedly stiffed by customers, they hire collection agencies that keep a percentage of the money they recover, using the rationale that a partial loaf is better than none at all. The DCR has announced that it will follow the same strategy it is working with the state controller to hire such a collector to give the renters a taste of their own medicine.

DCR proposed tackling the issue of back debt five years ago but being a state agency they evidently believed it couldn't make a move toward rectifying the problem without first hiring a consultant, to which it paid a $1 million fee in 2014. This was more than the total owed in back rent, and accomplished little besides diverting funds better utilized by DCR to perform its primary missions of conserving state land for future generations and making it available for current residents to enjoy.

In the interim, DCR's chronic shortage of funding caused real havoc on areas like Berkshire County that are rich in state forest land. State forests in the Berkshires have been neglected, with amenities such as picnic areas and bathroom facilities not properly maintained. Partiers and off-road vehicle enthusiasts have defaced their pristine natural beauty. Perhaps due to the presence of the state capital at one extreme, heavily populated end of the state, DCR has traditionally concentrated its funding on projects with greater proximity to the Statehouse, irrespective of where the preponderance of need may exist.

In 2016, Governor Baker appointed Leo Roy, an official with a strong environmental background to run DCR. Commissioner Roy pledged to get out of Boston, visit state parks and lobby for more investment. That's good news to towns like Otis, Sandisfield, Savoy, Monterey, Mount Washington and the city of Pittfield — all of which have state forests within their borders. Under Mr. Roy, the agency now appears poised to aggressively attack the unpaid debt program.

Those who cherish wilderness land in the Berkshires and other regions of the state have reason to be encouraged. We urge debtors, beginning with the aforementioned corporations, to meet their obligations and pay up.

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