Assembly resolution supports ‘steady stream’ of resources for national parks

The Kenai Peninsula is a jumping-off point for three major national parks in Alaska, and the borough government wants to see the infrastructure stay well maintained.

At its March 21 meeting, the Kenai Peninsula Borough Assembly adopted a resolution urging Congress to create a steady stream of resources for maintaining infrastructure in national parks. The resolution, sponsored by assembly member Willy Dunne, lends the assembly’s support to an effort by multiple organizations to ask for predictable resources to address deferred maintenance needs in national parks.

Dunne cited the example of Seward being a gateway community to the Kenai Fjords National Parks and benefiting economically from all the tourists visiting there. Similarly, Homer benefits from visitors flying to Katmai National Park to view the bears there, he said. The new federal administration under President Donald Trump has made some moves toward incentivizing infrastructure improvement, and national park facilities would fit in with that sentiment, he said.

“As a borough assembly, our borough residents benefit tremendously from national parks,” Dunne said. “As the infrastructure degrades and needs to be restored, I think it’s very appropriate for the borough assembly to encourage Congress to do that for the benefit of our residents, jobs and economy.”

The only opposition came from assembly member Stan Welles, who said he would oppose it because he supported the federal government transferring its lands to state management. In response, Borough Mayor Mike Navarre said he understood the issue, but that was a separate issue from the one the resolution addressed. The infrastructure improvement is necessary, and residents and local chambers of commerce and businesses supported it, he said.

“As long as we’re going to have these facilities, you cannot simply ignore the state that we sometimes allow our infrastructure (to reach),” Navarre said. “Some of it is just improving the roads and the rails. And by the way, there’s a whole bunch of people who help volunteering with these parks too. … There’s a lot of volunteerism that goes into these parks to help improve it.”

The assembly passed the resolution 8-1, with only Welles opposing it.

The National Park Service listed about $11.9 billion in deferred maintenance projects nationwide as of September 2015, according to its website, with about $114.6 million in deferred maintenance in Alaska. About $6.5 million was in the Kenai Fjords National Park, $12 million in Katmai National Park and Preserve and about $1.5 million in the Lake Clark National Park and Preserve, which lies partially in the borough on the west side of Cook Inlet.

Deferred maintenance can include anything from road pavement to repairing dams to interpretive signs. The projects are deferred because there has not been sufficient funding to meet facility need, and currently the National Park System budget is not sufficient to meet park needs, according to the National Park System website.

The Trump administration’s budget addresses deferred maintenance specifically within the Department of the Interior’s budget. However, it also reduces funds for other Department of the Interior construction and major maintenance programs, which will rely on existing resources in 2018, according to the budget summary. Overall, the budget includes a 12 percent cut, or $1.5 billion less, to the Department of the Interior, a sprawling department that includes agencies such as the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and the U.S. Geological Survey.

The National Parks Conservation Association, a nonprofit advocating for the protection and enhancement of the national park system, supported the additional funding for deferred maintenance. However, it raised concerns about the impacts to national parks from cuts to other agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency, and elimination of programs from within the National Park Service, such as funding for National Heritage Areas and the Land and Water Conservation Fund, according to a March 16 press release.

“The cuts to land acquisition, water restoration and historic preservation programs are nothing short of alarming,” said John Garder, the director of budget and appropriations for the organization, in a statement. “Cutting this funding fails to recognize how essential these programs are to protecting national parks, our natural resources and our cultural heritage.”

Multiple chambers of commerce and business support organizations from across Alaska signed a letter appended to the borough assembly’s resolution, addressed to members of the Senate Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations and the House Subcommittee on Interior, Environment and Related Agencies. The letter specifically requests a guaranteed federal fund that allots funds to the deferred maintenance backlog over time, implementing policies such as entry and vendor fees that help prevent backlogs from building up, directing more Highway Trust Fund dollars to the National Park Service for road maintenance and providing more opportunity for public-private partnerships.

Cindy Clock, the executive director of the Seward Chamber of Commerce, said the organization lent its support to the effort, even though the board didn’t feel there was any dire need of infrastructure at the Kenai Fjords National Park at present. A representative from the Pew Charitable Trusts, an advocacy group based in Washington, D.C., pitched the idea for the resolution to the chamber, she said. Most of the Kenai Fjords National Park is wilderness and seen from a boat, so other than the Exit Glacier infrastructure — which is in good shape at present, she said — the park doesn’t seem to have obvious infrastructure needs.

“We couldn’t give (the representative) a long list of complaints,” she said. “That being said, we still support the idea of maintaining national parks.”

Reach Elizabeth Earl at elizabeth.earl@peninsulaclarion.com.

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