Jewell may allow some national parks to reopen with state, private funds

This passage stands out:

Jewell’s overture comes as a key House Republican today pledged to hold hearings to discuss how to facilitate more state and local authority over national parks. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, said that the Obama administration has shuttered parks in an “overly political manner” and that states and localities could manage them better.

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Jewell may allow some national parks to reopen with state, private funds

Phil Taylor, E&E reporter, Greenwire

Interior Secretary Sally Jewell is considering allowing states and private donors to finance the reopening of some national parks, in a switch from the agency’s earlier stance on such proposals that have come in during the government shutdown.

Governors in Arizona, Utah and South Dakota this month have offered state funds to reopen national parks including Zion, Arches, Grand Canyon and Mount Rushmore, where government-shutdown-caused closures have harmed gateway communities.

“Responding to the economic impacts that the park closures are having on many communities and local businesses, Secretary Jewell will consider agreements with governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Park Service personnel to re-open national parks in their states,” Interior spokesman Blake Androff said in a statement. “The Interior Department will begin conversations about how to proceed as expeditiously as current limited resources allow.”

It’s likely to come as a relief to gateway communities that thrive on the business visitors to the nation’s 401 park units bring to hotels, restaurants, outfitters and gas stations.

Jewell’s overture comes as a key House Republican today pledged to hold hearings to discuss how to facilitate more state and local authority over national parks. Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), the chairman of the Natural Resources Subcommittee on Public Lands and Environmental Regulation, said that the Obama administration has shuttered parks in an “overly political manner” and that states and localities could manage them better.

The Obama administration has said it is unwilling to cede control over federal lands to states, and conservationists have summarily rejected the idea.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) this week said the government shutdown was costing Utah — home to Zion, Arches, Bryce Canyon, Capitol Reef and Canyonlands national parks, among other units — about $100 million.

“It is within the power and authority of the executive branch to allow the national parks and monuments to be reopened,” Herbert said in a Tuesday letter to President Obama. “We have a solution in place. We just need, literally, the keys to the gates. I cannot overstate that time is of the essence.”

A spokeswoman said Herbert spoke with Jewell by phone this afternoon.

“We’ve had a breakthrough and are working out details now,” said Ally Isom, Herbert’s deputy chief of staff.

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) late last week sent a similar letter, arguing that Interior allowed the Grand Canyon to be reopened during the government shutdown in 1995 using state and private donations and has accepted similar overtures from private groups to reopen visitors centers closed as a result of the federal sequester cuts.

A spokesman for Brewer did not say whether the governor had requested funding from the state Legislature, and if so, how much.

This week, a food bank is delivering food boxes to thousands of Grand Canyon employees who are stranded without work or pay during the government shutdown (Greenwire, Oct. 9).

South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) said last week that he is willing to raise private funds to light Mount Rushmore and use state personnel to provide security.

John Garder, a budget expert with the National Parks Conservation Association, said legal agreements need to be in place before the Park Service can accept nonfederal funds or resources to operate a park. He said it took lengthy talks in 1995 to reopen only a small portion of the Grand Canyon.

“The Park Service has diverse legal requirements and arrangements unseen by the public that can impact why certain facilities are closed while others are not,” he wrote earlier this week on the group’s website. “We know the Park Service is receiving many requests related to the shutdown, but a key challenge is that they are trying to do so with only a tiny fraction of their normal staff.”

Jewell’s consideration of nonfederal funding sources is an apparent break from the Park Service’s initial response to states.

NPS spokesman Michael Litterst on Tuesday cited possible “legal constraints” involved in operating parks during the shutdown and said “it would not be appropriate or feasible to open some parks or some parts of parks while other parts of the National Park System remain closed to the public.”

The Park Service is under intense pressure from Republicans to open parks they argue require little day-to-day maintenance or supervision. Republican National Committee Chairman Reince Priebus in a televised media appearance last week offered to pay security expenses to maintain operation of Washington, D.C.’s National World War II Memorial, a site that has become a symbol of the partisan rancor surrounding the closure of parks.

Reporter Elana Schor contributed.

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