$1.1 Billion Allocated for National Parks' Maintenance Backlog

The Olympian

2/3/04 The Interior Department proposed Monday to spend $1.1 billion on deferred maintenance at national parks, but watchdog groups say the Bush administration is falling short of its promise to eliminate the backlog by 2005.
The parks budget proposal is 22 percent larger than the $901 million spent for park upkeep for each of the past two years. But some are beginning to question Bush's commitment to polishing the nation's tarnished jewels.

The president's budget "falls far short of what's needed for the national parks," said Heather Weiner, Northwest representative of the National Parks Conservation Association. She hadn't seen the budget details and couldn't say how Olympic and Mount Rainier national parks might be affected.

The money Bush promised during his campaign would help reduce the backlog of maintenance and needed facility improvements at Mount Rainier and Olympic national parks. Mount Rainier has seen an increase in funding during the past two years that has begun to shrink the backlog, Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said.

But park officials also hope to make improvements at Paradise Inn, replace the Henry M. Jackson Memorial visitor center and upgrade sewage treatment in the park. Park roads need about $50 million in repairs and several drinking water systems throughout the park need to be replaced, he said.

Those big items total $80 million, Uberuaga said. The park got more money for deferred maintenance in 2002, and he expects to see higher amounts for deferred maintenance, but he hasn't seen the final figures on the 2003 budget.

The Bush administration is not putting enough new money into wiping out the backlog and into the National Park Service's annual operations budgets so it can keep newer facilities in good shape, said Tom Kiernan, president of the National Parks Conservation Association. Kiernan's group estimates the park system receives only two-thirds of the money it needs each year to keep up with annual maintenance at 384 national parks and protected areas, covering 84 million acres.

The General Accounting Office, Congress' investigative arm, pegged the parks maintenance backlog at $4.9 billion several years ago -- a number that is widely considered to be out-of-date.


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