Ten days after a federal government deadlock shut down Utah’s national parks, bleeding tourism-dependent businesses and towns, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert inked a deal late Thursday and wired funds Friday morning to the Interior Department that should have park gates swinging open by Saturday morning.
"C’mon down to Southern Utah. We expect you’ll have a great time in Southern Utah and our parks are open," Herbert said during a signing ceremony Thursday night.
Coalition: Park closures drive losses in visitor spending
More than $3.4 million in visitor spending has been lost since the Oct. 1 closure of Zion National Park, according to the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees.
The park’s closure due to the federal government shutdown has threatened more than 2,401 jobs, including 2,136 local jobs not affiliated with the National Park Service, the coalition said.
The group reported losses for Zion and other parks across the country for the first 10 days of the shutdown based on visitation numbers from Oct. 12, 2012.
Other major impacts in lost dollars include: $11.7 million at Grand Canyon National Park, $5.2 million at Acadia National Park, and $23.1 million at Great Smoky Mountains National Park.
Interior Secretary Sally Jewell signed the contract with the state Friday morning and work began to call park employees back to work.
Utah taxpayers will loan the federal government $1.7 million, enough to keep five national parks — Zion, Bryce, Arches, Canyonlands and Capitol Reef — and Natural Bridges, Glen Canyon and Cedar Breaks national monuments open for 10 days. The Legislature, which will meet in special session Wednesday, can approve funds to keep the areas open beyond that time.
"The people who make their livelihood off tourism and travel, this is a godsend for them. They’ve been decimated," the governor said.
October is a busy tourist season, with $100 million in revenue earned in the period. The deal will ensure the parks are open during the upcoming Columbus Day weekend, as well as the fall recess for Utah schools.
In Montana, Gov. Steve Bullock says the state will not pick up the tab to reopen Glacier National Park during the federal government shutdown.
The Democrat told Lee Newspapers of Montana on Thursday that it’s long past time for Congress to end "this reckless and job-killing shutdown."
Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead’s office said that state would not pay to reopen Yellowstone or Grand Teton national parks.
But Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer says she’d consider paying for a partial reopening of Grand Canyon National Park.
Herbert wrote to President Barack Obama earlier this week, offering state funding and asking the president for the "keys to the gates." Thursday morning, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell spoke to Herbert by phone, expressing a willingness to consider the state’s offer, sparking a scramble to hammer out the deal finalized Thursday evening.
The agreement defuses a looming confrontation between the park service and some southern Utah counties whose elected leaders were bent on reopening park units with county sheriffs and personnel.
Herbert called the Legislature into special session Wednesday to approve additional, longer-term funding. It would take an act of Congress to approve repayment of the funds. Herbert said his office was working with the congressional delegation to make sure that happens.
Local leaders react » At a meeting in St. George, House Speaker Becky Lockhart, R-Provo, and Herbert deputy chief of staff Mike Mower conveyed the good news to local officials, drawing applause — although some groans, too, from those who want to swing the gates open now.
Asked about a 24-hour wait, Washington County Commissioner Alan Gardner said, "I thought, ‘Wow, that’s a long time.’ "
He also worried that many tourists originally heading to the parks may have already changed their plans, opting for other destinations.
Mower said the governor is "planning on a full opening" of the national parks, rather than a partial one. He also said the federal government would retain liability for what occurred inside the parks.
Lockhart, who was running the meeting, expressed concern about loaning money to Washington, D.C.
"Let’s remember," Lockhart said, "why this is happening: the utter failure of the federal government."
She pointed out that the federal government doesn’t currently have the highest credit rating. She also said issues such as interest still have to be determined. "The Legislature is probably going to want some assurances."Next Page >
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