National parks - which have for years delayed repairs and maintenance because of tight budgets - failed to charge hotels, marinas and other concessionaires at least $73.8 million worth of utility costs between 1986 and 1990.

And two parks in Utah - Zion National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area - are among the offenders but were far from the worst.That's according to a report by the U.S. Interior Department inspector general. The U.S. National Park Service is part of that department.

Inspectors said Glen Canyon National Recreation Area, which oversees Lake Powell, failed to charge $131,108 in utility bills and utility construction costs to concessionaires. Zion failed to charge $8,500.

They were the only parks in Utah audited, and their errors were tiny compared to some by the other 21 sites sampled among the 356 parks and monuments operated by the Park Service nationwide.

For example, inspectors said Grand Canyon failed to charge more than $26 million; Yosemite failed to charge nearly $14 million; Sequoia, $12.3 million; Statue of Liberty, $6.6 million; and Yellowstone, $5.4 million.

Inspectors said Glen Canyon charged improper amounts to concessionaires because it did not adjust rates for inflation, it excluded some utility improvement costs from rates and made computation errors.

While utility rates are supposed to be based on the actual costs of the previous year adjusted for expected inflation, the report said Glen Canyon's "rates were based on costs incurred two years prior . . . For example, Glen Canyon used 1984 actual costs for formulating 1986 rates . . . No inflation factor was applied to these costs because area personnel lacked guidance and training."

Inspectors said Zion charged improper amounts because its rates did not force concessionaires to share some utility development costs.

That same problem caused $71.2 million of the $73.8 million in costs not charged identified by inspectors. They listed some of the bigger individual problems, including:

- "Grand Canyon National Park has not pursued cost sharing for utility capital investments totaling $20 million for fiscal 1986 through 1989. These funds were expended for water system modifications and wastewater treatment facilities, of which the concessioner's use was 80 percent and 84 percent, respectively."

- Yosemite failed to pursue cost sharing for an $11.3 million electrical distribution system, "of which the concessioners used 68 percent."

- "The Statue of Liberty National Monument has not pursued cost sharing for a planned fiscal 1990 water and sewer capital investment project estimated to cost $10.9 million . . . for which the concessioner's use is more than 50 percent."

Inspectors recommended - and park service officials agreed - to make guidelines for charging utility costs more clear and to provide employees more training.

The park service said, however, it does not feel it would be fair to charge concessionaires all the applicable costs - just "to the extent is economically feasible" for them to pay them.

But inspectors said, "Recipients of utility benefits should share in the costs of benefits received to the extent possible. Any factors that prevent full cost recovery should be properly authorized and clearly documented."

The park service in recent years has delayed much planned repairs and maintenance to facilities because of tight budgets. Interior Secretary Manuel Lujan Jr. has also vowed to charge concessionaires higher rates when they renew their contracts, saying rates have been far too low generally.


(Additional information)


The U.S. Interior Department inspector general says national parks have failed to collect millions in utility bills and utility construction costs from concessionaires. Below is a sample of some of the findings around the country and in Utah:

Grand Canyon $26 million

Yosemite $14 million

Sequoia $12.3 million

Statue of Liberty $6.6 million

Glen Canyon National

Recreation Area $131,108

Zion $8,500

Yellowstone $5.4 million.