Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act – Hope?

Many National Park Service (NPS) parks, battlefields, recreation areas, memorials and historic sites have a backlog of maintenance issues ranging from outdated, unsafe electrical and drinking water systems to moldy historical buildings, eroding trails and crumbling monuments.

Some examples include leaks in a 16-mile pipeline at the Grand Canyon that provides the only drinkable water at the national park; leaching septic tanks that are polluting the watershed in Maine’s Acadia National Park; an 80-year-old seawall that is sinking, leading to recurrent flooding along the Tidal Basin on the National Mall in Washington; and water-damaged walls inside Ebenezer Baptist Church at the Martin Luther King, Jr. National Historical Park in Atlanta.

While the NPS dithers with burdening the tour industry with a cumbersome system of confusing Commercial Use Authorizations (CUAs) with exorbitant fees in an effort to fund an $11.6 billion maintenance backlog, it may be Congress that offers the practical, bipartisan solution. Go figure.

The stated purpose of H.R 1225, the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, is “To establish, fund, and provide for the use of amounts in a National Park Service and Public Lands Legacy Restoration Fund to address the maintenance backlog of the National Park Service, United States Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Land Management, and Bureau of Indian Education, and for other purposes.”

More specifically, if passed the funds would be used as follows:

  • 80 percent would be allocated for priority deferred maintenance projects, including other infrastructure deficiencies directly related to such deferred maintenance projects with the goal of ensuring overall parity between amounts allocated to transportation and non-transportation projects.
  • 10 percent would be allocated for purposes of addressing the national wildlife refuge system maintenance backlog.
  • 5 percent would be allocated for the purposes of addressing the public access and recreation backlog on public lands.
  • 5 percent would be allocated for the purposes of addressing the Bureau of Indian Education school construction and deferred maintenance backlogs.

Introduced earlier this year by Rep. Rob Bishop (R-ID), H.R. 1225 currently enjoys rare broad bipartisan support with 292 cosponsors.

The funds would be derived from energy development revenues from oil, gas, coal or alternative or renewable energy development on federal land and water that would otherwise be credited, covered or deposited as miscellaneous.

On the other side of the Capitol, U.S. Senators Rob Portman (R-OH), Mark Warner (D-VA), Lamar Alexander (R-TN), and Angus King (I-ME) introduced S. 500, the Restore Our Parks Act, a comparable bill that enjoys 40 cosponsors.

“The Restore Our Parks effort represents a significant investment in those things we collectively love and cherish,” said Will Shafroth, president of the National Park Foundation. “We look forward to working with Congress and our partners to ensure America’s national parks and public lands have what they need to thrive today and into the future.”

Despite broad bipartisan support, similar legislation did not pass in the 115th Congress. It also remains unclear if the proposed CUA program will be scaled back if the legislation passes and President Trump signs it into law.

UMA views this legislation with reserved optimism and is closely monitoring for further progress. We remain concerned with the proposed implementation of CUAs and the NPS’s failure to fairly address charter buses.

For now, we place this legislation under the yellow light.

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