Feds dangle Grand Canyon re-opening possibility

2013-10-11T00:00:00Z 2014-07-03T10:05:26Z Feds dangle Grand Canyon re-opening possibilityBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
October 11, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — Federal officials said Thursday they’re willing to reopen national parks with state dollars — but only in a way that may make it financially impossible.

Blake Androff, spokesman for the U.S. Department of Interior, said his agency will “consider agreements with governors who indicate an interest and ability to fully fund National Parks Service personnel to reopen national parks in their states.” The next step, he said, is working out the details.

But Androff said Interior Secretary Sally Jewell will entertain only offers where states agree to open the entire park. He said proposals for partial reopening will not be considered.

Dave Uberuaga, superintendent of Grand Canyon National Park, said the exact figure for full reopening is still being worked out. But he said it is “north of $100,000 a day.”

For the moment, that includes the North Rim, which remains open. Full shutdown does not occur until snows make it impassible, something that Uberuaga said did not occur last year until after Thanksgiving.

Andrew Wilder, spokesman for Gov. Jan Brewer, said while his boss is willing to find funds to open the gates, that all-or-nothing approach could make Jewell’s offer meaningless.

“If that ends up being what their change in policy is, that would only serve to show how absolutely unserious they are in seeing the Grand Canyon reopen,” he said, calling the demand “unnecessary.”

“A partial reopen would accomplish what most people want, and that is getting tourists back into the park to see the bulk of what they’re there to see, which is the majestic views of the Grand Canyon,” he said.

Wilder said there is precedent for that, with the Department of Interior agreeing to a $17,000-a-day deal from the state in 1995 to keep the park open only to Mather Point.

Another possible roadblock: Androff said the idea would be to have entrance fees collected in a state-financed park, just as they are now. But there is no guarantee Arizona would get its money back once the federal government reopens, as happened in 1995.

“The donation would not be reimbursable, unless Congress passes legislation to do so,” he said.

And getting federal lawmakers to approve such a measure is far from a sure thing. Even U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the Canyon, was unwilling to commit to pushing reimbursement legislation after the government reopens.

“I’d have to see how much that is and where we are,” she said. “We’ve got our own problems with the federal budget right now.”

State Rep. John Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills, who chairs the House Appropriations Committee, said he’s willing to support state funding. And he said that a bipartisan agreement ahead of time could make that happen in a one-day special session.

Kavanagh said he’s not concerned there is no promise of reimbursement.

“I think the economic loss (from closure) is so great, and the chance of repayment so high, that it’s a reasonable thing to do,” he said.

In a report earlier this year, the National Park Service said the Grand Canyon’s 4.3 million visitors a year spent more than $467 million and supported 7,361 jobs in Arizona in 2011, the most recent figures available.

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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