Politics

House bill would take aim at $100 million maintenance backlog in Alaska national parks

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan House bill would dedicate billions of dollars to fixing a backlog of maintenance needs at national parks — including more than $100 million for projects in Alaska.

House Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop, R-Utah, and the committee's ranking member, Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, introduced a bill this week that would establish federal revenue streams aimed at managing the nearly $12 billion backlog in repairs needed at national parks. Alaska Rep. Don Young is a co-sponsor of the bill.

The bipartisan venture is uncommon for Bishop and Grijalva, who don't often see eye to eye on natural resources issues.

Data provided by the The Pew Charitable Trust shows that at least two dozen projects in Alaska national parks are designated as "high" and "highest" priority by the park service. The list includes multimillion-dollar road repairs in Denali National Park and Preserve, Katmai National Park and Preserve and Glacier Bay National Park & Preserve; building repairs in Wrangell St. Elias National Park, Kenai Fjords National Park, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and others; and fixes to trails and water and wastewater systems.

The cost of deferred repairs and projects in 15 national parks in Alaska totals $105.7 million, according to documents provided by the National Park Service.

The House bill would direct an estimated $6.5 billion over five years to manage high-priority repairs at 400 national parks and other public lands managed by the Fish and Wildlife Service, the Bureau of Land Management and the Bureau of Indian Education. The funding would come from federal royalties from on- and offshore oil and gas drilling and renewable energy projects on federal lands.

Eighty percent of the funds would go to the park service, 10 percent would go to national wildlife refuges, 5 percent would go to the Bureau of Land Management for public access and recreation, and 5 percent would go to Bureau of Indian Education for school construction.

"Reducing the park service backlog should be a priority for anyone who uses public lands," Young said in a statement to the Anchorage Daily News. "The vast majority of Alaskans participate in outdoor recreation, and I am proud to co-sponsor and support this legislation to ensure Alaskans will continue to have access to recreation areas," he said.

Funding national parks cannot come solely from appropriations, Young said. Bishop and Grijalva came up with a solution that would ensure public lands "receive funds from federal energy development without impacting other programs, such as the Land and Water Conservation Fund," Young said.

There is a similar bill in the Senate, on which Alaska Sen. Dan Sullivan is a co-sponsor. Alaska Sen. Lisa Murkowski chairs the energy committee, whch oversees the National Park Service and held a subcommittee hearing on the bill this month.

"The legislation is really important because it will provide dedicated annual funding that will really allow the park service to plan for some of the bigger, more complicated and more expensive projects," said Marcia Argust, director of The Pew Charitable Trusts' restore America's parks campaign. Argust and other conservation and parks advocates heaped praise on the bill.

Erica Martinson

Erica Martinson is a former reporter for the Anchorage Daily News based in Washington, D.C.

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