State must decide if it will keep funding Grand Canyon

2013-10-15T00:00:00Z State must decide if it will keep funding Grand CanyonBy Howard Fischer Capitol Media Services Arizona Daily Star
October 15, 2013 12:00 am  • 

PHOENIX — Arizona has about $275,000 in the bank earmarked for Grand Canyon operations — and less than two days to decide whether to use that to keep the national park open if budget negotiations in Washington remain stalled.

The park reopened Saturday morning after the state wired $651,000 to Washington to cover operating costs for a week.

The contract Gov. Jan Brewer signed with the National Park Service says it takes two days to close it down and that additional dollars will be accepted in nothing less than two-day increments.

If the federal shutdown continues and Arizona wants the park to remain open, the governor must wire at least another $186,000 to the Parks Service Wednesday.

The state appears to have some extra cash. The original wire transfer was covered with $500,000 from the Arizona Office of Tourism and $200,000 authorized by the town of Tusayan.

On Saturday, however, Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan handed Brewer a check for $426,000. That includes not only what the town council pledged but what had been raised to that point by local businesses.

That extra $226,000, coupled with what was left over from the original $700,000, would be more than to enough to finance the park through Sunday.

But gubernatorial press aide Andrew Wilder said just because the state has the money does not mean his boss intends to use it. He said Brewer may instead take the excess from Tusayan and replenish some of the dollars taken from the state’s tourism account.

Wilder said the soonest there will be a decision on that is sometime today.

The cash infusion has apparently had the intended effect.

Park spokeswoman Kirby-Lynn Shedlowski said there’s been “a little bit of a lag’’ in getting business back to normal after the park was closed for more than a week.

Shedlowski said the Mather campground, with more than 300 sites, filled up immediately on Saturday night. And she expects a tally on the number of daily visitors to approach the normal 18,000 for this time of the year.

“It’s pretty busy,’’ Shedlowski said. “I was surprised at the number of cars heading to the park today.’’

In Tusayan, Town Manager Will Wright said business is up over what it was last week. But he said it’s not quite back to normal for this time of year.

“People just made different plans,’’ he said.

Wright also said there is no official effort there to raise more money, whether from town coffers or once again tap local businesses, if the current funding to keep the park open runs out.

Wilder said there’s a lot involved in any decision whether to continue funding park operations.

“Hopefully, the federal government ends the shutdown,’’ he said. “That’s the ultimate solution. They need to end the shutdown.’’

But the deal Brewer approved does not allow her to wait until the last minute. Wilder said the Park Service needs the money by close of business Wednesday or shutdown plans kick in on Thursday morning.

There is a bit of a safeguard for the state in fronting some more dollars without knowing exactly what Congress and the president will do: The contract says the Park Service will refund any unused balance if Congress appropriates funding for operation before the state financing run out.

Wilder said Brewer hopes everyone who contributed will get reimbursed. But the Park Service contract makes no such promise, saying that question ultimately has to be decided by Congress.

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

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