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Council urges Congress to fund deferred maintenance at parks

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By Arin McKenna

The Los Alamos County Council voted 5–0 on Tuesday to approve a resolution encouraging congress to create a reliable, predictable stream of resources to address deferred maintenance needs in America’s national park system.

Chair Rick Reiss and Councilor David Izraelevitz were not in attendance. County Administrator Harry Burgess explained the reason for bringing the resolution before council.

“A couple of weeks ago, there was a contingent from the Pew Charitable Trust in town, doing a tour around the nation, informing communities and asking communities about the needs of the National Park Service,” Burgess said. “Part of their discussion was that at present the National Park Service has a list of maintenance deferrals that total almost $12 billion dollars. And the push of their efforts was try to obtain support from communities to write to Congress, let them know of the desire to fund those various maintenance deferred projects, because they do affect the number of visitors that come to town and also the economic impact that the parks have on communities within which they reside.”

The National Park Service (NPS) currently manages 410 nationally significant sites and a collection of more than 75,000 natural and cultural assets that span 84 million acres across all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and several U.S. territories and insular areas. In 2015, 307 million visitors enjoyed those assets, with 1.7 million of those visiting New Mexico parks.

In 2016, the NPS estimated a deferred maintenance backlog of nearly $12 billion dollars. Maintenance needs include repairs to aging historical structures, trails, sewers, drainage, thousands of miles of roads, bridges, tunnels and other vital infrastructure. More than $113 million of those projects are in New Mexico.

Bandelier National Monument is has deferred maintenance totaling $23.2 million dollars and the Valles Caldera National Preserve is in need of $104,347.

“As we know from experience standing up the new Manhattan Project National Historical Park, part of the conversation we’ve had with the park service is there’s no funding for new construction, and that’s largely linked to this deferred maintenance bill that they’re still trying to accommodate,” Burgess said. “So the idea being that hopefully we can put at the front of our legislators’ minds the intent to fund these projects.”

NPS celebrated its 100th anniversary last week. New Mexico is home to 15 national parks in the system, which provide not only recreational and cultural benefits but bring in an estimated $97.5 million a year in tourism spending in local gateway communities and support 1,500 jobs. 

According to NPS, Los Alamos’ three national parks brought almost 175,000 visitors to the county in 2015, which supported 168 jobs and accounted for more than $13 million of spending. 

A recent report shows that for every $1 invested in the national parks, there is a $10 economic benefit to the local community and that national parks support over 275,000 direct and secondary jobs nationwide.

“I feel that when citizens see direct benefit from additional money they’re asked to pay, they’re much more inclined to support it, rather than just more money for Washington and not knowing where it’s going to end up,” Councilor Pete Sheehey said.

Find the full resolution in Tuesday’s agenda at losalamos.legistar.com.