Bipartisan bill introduced in Congress aims to fix national parks

Stock image, St. George News

Written by or for St. George News. * March 8, 2018

DISTRICT OF COLUMBIA – The Trump administration is supporting bipartisan legislation that would take as much as $18 billion in revenue from energy produced on federal lands and waters to establish a fund specifically for national park restoration.

The bill follows the blueprint laid out in Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and President Donald Trump’s budget proposal, the public lands infrastructure fund, according to a statement Wednesday from the Interior Department.

The legislation was introduced in the Senate by Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., and Angus King, I-Maine, and in the House of Representatives by Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, and Kurt Schrader, D-Ore.

This bill fulfills one of the priorities laid out in Trump’s legislative framework for rebuilding America’s infrastructure.

In this 2013 file photo, cars, RVs and buses lined up for miles for the reopening of Bryce Canyon National Park, Utah, Oct. 11, 2013 | Photo by Shane Brinkerhoff, St. George News

” Infrastructure is an investment, not merely an expense,” Zinke said in the statement. “And every dollar we put in to rebuilding our parks will help bolster the gateway communities that rely on park visitation for economic vitality.

“Infrastructure is also about access for all Americans. Not all visitors to our parks have the ability to hike with a 30-pound pack and camp in the wilderness miles away from utilities. In order for families with young kids , elderly grandparents , or persons with disabilities to enjoy the parks, we need to rebuild basic infrastructure like roads, trails, lodges, restrooms and visitors centers.”

The National Park Service estimates that its maintenance and repair backlog exceeds $11.6 billion.

In 2017, 330 million people visited the 417 park service locations across the country.

The park service completed over $650 million in maintenance and repair work in 2017, but aging facilities, high visitation and resource constraints have kept the maintenance backlog between $11 billion and $12 billion since 2010.

This 2017 file photo shows the back side of the Grand Canyon Lodge, North Rim, Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona, July 3, 2017 | Photo by Reuben Wadsworth, St. George News

“For more than a century, our national parks have inspired and amazed countless visitors,” King said in the statement. “Unfortunately, these parks don’t take care of themselves – they need maintenance to ensure that future generations can experience the same wonder that so many Americans already have. This bill is a practical step to help clear the existing maintenance backlog, and protect these treasured lands for years to come.”

While national parks have enjoyed historic visitation over the past few years, many Americans have never been to a park service location and are unfamiliar with what infrastructure they hold. This is something that Congress wants to change. More Americans should want to visit these locations that are on their doorstep, that’s why the bill proposes to make National Parks more accessible for families and the elderly. They will probably want to promote lodging in the areas too, making sure that people from further away can enjoy a break in the national parks. For example, those wanting to visit the Smoky Mountains National Park could consider staying in a cabin in the mountains if they wanted to. That would benefit those businesses over there, and it would improve the economy.

“Our ability to enjoy and appreciate that natural beauty is limited when upkeep on our federal lands isn’t sufficiently funded allowing critical maintenance to fall by the wayside,” Schrader said in the statement. “Not only does that impact our enjoyment of the land, but it poses serious risks to the protection of these areas and hurts our communities that rely on the economic benefit from visitors.

“Our bill provides an innovative solution by creating the National Park Restoration Fund which will provide mandatory funding from unutilized resources already available to us, to bring that backlog down and ensure our national park system is well and safely kept for generations to come.”

Some examples of maintenance projects include:

  • Grand Canyon National Park, Arizona – A pipeline – the only infrastructure to deliver water to the South Rim Village of 19,634 people daily for drinking, cooking and firefighting – breaks several times a year, putting the well-being of the community including park lodges, visitor centers, homes and Grand Canyon hikers at risk. Grand Canyon maintenance backlog cost is more than $329 million.
  • Statue of Liberty National Monument, New York/New Jersey – $34.45 million is needed to stabilize the Ellis Island seawall, which protects Ellis Island from erosion of wave action. $3.77 million is also needed to rehabilitate the Fire-Life-Safety system in the Main Immigration Building, where 2.2 million annual visitors start and end their visit to the island. Statue of Liberty National Monument maintenance backlog cost is more than $166 million.
  • Everglades National Park, Florida – Showers, campgrounds and lodges that were destroyed during a hurricane more than a decade ago remain broken. Everglades maintenance backlog cost is more than $90 million.

Here’s a quick look at National Park Service infrastructure across the board:

  • More than 5,500 miles of paved roads.
  • More than 1,700 bridges and tunnels.
  • More than 17,000 miles of trails.
  • More than 1,300 campgrounds.
  • More than 24,000 buildings including more than 500 visitor centers, 425 park lodges and hotel buildings, 3,870 housing units and more than 3,700 bathrooms.
  • More than 1,000 miles of water pipelines.
  • More than 1,500 water systems.
  • More than 1,800 wastewater systems.
  • More than 500 electrical systems.
Posted in Land, News, Resources, St. George News, US Dept of the Interior.

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