SALT LAKE CITY — A bipartisan bill introduced Wednesday aims to reduce the $12 billion deferred-maintenance backlog at national parks and monuments by taking 50 percent of the money generated from all energy development.
The revenue stream would not affect programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund, where the money is already allocated and would generate an estimated $6.5 billion over five years.
"If you can all envision in your own mind a situation where bridges are crumbling, the roads are full of potholes and the pipes are leaking and the electrical grid is very spotty — it is not a disaster movie and it is not even my neighborhood in Washington," said Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah.
"It is our park system."
Bishop, chairman of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources, and its ranking member Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., spoke in rare unison at a Wednesday press conference detailing the importance of the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act.
"The tragedy of this backlog is first, it indicates that we are not being good stewards of the land, but second, it could jeopardize the ability and access for people who want to travel and enjoy our national parks," Bishop said.
"If your parks are not open and accessible to people, there is no sense in having a park," he added.
The bill proposes to:
• Establish a federal fund in the U.S. Treasury to specifically draw down the maintenance backlogs at national parks, public lands and Indian schools
• Direct revenues to that federal fund from onshore, offshore and renewable energy operations that are not already allocated by law to other programs
• Allocate 50 percent of the available revenue for maintenance needs for up to $1.3 billion a year
Eighty percent of that money would go to fixing trails, water systems, historic structures and assets that impact disability access and transportation needs such as roads, bridges and tunnels.
"This is a solution we can all support," said Grijalva.
The energy revenue would also help address maintenance backlogs at the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's national wildlife refuges and help backlogs at the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Affairs' Bureau of Indian Education.
“This bipartisan compromise bill is a major step toward addressing our parks’ maintenance needs, ensuring our most historically, culturally and naturally significant places are preserved for years to come," said Theresa Pierno, president and chief executive officer for the National Parks Conservation Association.
"By restoring park roads, buildings and trails at national parks, we also enhance visitor access and experiences, and provide tremendous economic benefits for gateway communities nationwide.
The House bill is similar to a bipartisan measure introduced in June in the Senate.
Rep. Mia Love, R-Utah, said the effort shows the divisiveness of party politics can be set aside to provide an innovative funding source for a critical need.
"It also shows the people that members of both parties can come together to address national priorities," she said.
The measure was praised by multiple groups.
“The effort to find a compromise to fix our parks is not only bipartisan; now it is also bicameral,” said Marcia Argust, who directs the Pew Charitable Trusts’ restore America’s parks campaign. “Pew applauds Rep. Rob Bishop and his colleagues for collaborating on this proposal, which combines the best of the parks deferred-maintenance bills and provides significant and consistent funding to address the backlog.”
Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah, also spoke at the press conference, noting that Arches and Canyonlands national parks have a $65 million backlog that has gone unaddressed for years.
Across the state, there are $266 million in needs across 12 units managed by the National Park Service.
At Timpanogos Cave National Monument, $2.5 million in maintenance needs include upgrades to a vault toilet installed in the 1930s and the 1.5-mile trail to the entrance of the cave, said Jim Ireland, monument superintendent and also the Utah state coordinator for the National Park Service.9 comments on this story
"The Last Chance Bathroom was built back in the 1930s when we had 10,000 visitors a year; we now have over 100,000 a year," he said. "It is a capacity issue."
Ireland said the current visitor center is a temporary construction trailer brought to the site in 1991 after a fire burned down the old center. It was only supposed to last around two years, he added.
"It has been there 27 years and every winter takes a toll on it."
Ireland said he is hopeful some of these problems are addressed.
"A lot of this infrastructure was built decades ago," he said. "We really need to invest in them."