Jewell supports paying back Utah, states that reopened national parks

Published: Tuesday, March 25 2014 4:10 p.m. MDT

Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell speaks reporters during a trade show for outdoor gear makers Wednesday, Jan. 22, 2014, in Salt Lake City. Jewell said Tuesday she would not resist legislation to reimburse Utah and other states that paid to reopen national parks during the federal shutdown last fall.

Rick Bowmer, Asssociated Press

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SALT LAKE CITY — Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said Tuesday she would not resist legislation to reimburse Utah and other states that paid to reopen national parks during the federal shutdown last fall.

Jewell made the comment during a congressional budget hearing in response to questions from Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah.

Utah paid the National Park Service $1 million to reopen eight national parks, monuments and recreation areas that were closed during the 16-day partial government shutdown in October.

Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota and Tennessee also made deals with the federal government to use state dollars to reopen various sites, including the Statute of Liberty.

Utah's contract with park service, which calls the state's payment a donation, promises that if money is set aside by Congress for reimbursement, the federal government "will promptly take action to do so."

"That hasn't happened yet. Do you see a problem with that reimbursement back to the those states?" Stewart asked Jewell.

Jewell said she was advised that she could not commit the government to anything and conveyed that to the governors of those states.

"All the governors that we worked with went in eyes wide open that they could not be reimbursed without congressional action," she said.

Jewell noted pending legislation to pay back the states and said that is the appropriate course going forward.

"But you wouldn't resist that legislation if we were to try to reimburse those states for their expenses?" Stewart asked.

"I would not resist it," Jewell said.

Sens. Orrin Hatch and Mike Lee, both R-Utah, are co-sponsoring a bill with Sens. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., Mark Udall, D-Colo., and Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., to repay the states.

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