By Nick Worth
The Arizona Governor’s Office announced Friday that Governor Jan Brewer had negotiated an agreement with the U.S. Department of Interior to reopen Grand Canyon National Park. The move came after the governors of Arizona, Utah, Colorado, South Dakota and other states received a letter the previous day from Interior Secretary Sally Jewell which said the federal government would consider offers to pay for park operations.
Jewell’s letter also specified the Department of the Interior will not cede control of national parks to the states, but would consider allowing the parks to reopen using state and local funds. Over 400 national parks, as well as hundreds of national wildlife refuges, national monuments and U.S. Forest Service campgrounds have been closed to the public since Congress failed to come up with a government funding bill on Oct. 1.
According to the governor’s office, reopening the park has been a core focus of the governor since the initial threat of the shutdown weeks ago. On Friday, Oct. 4, Brewer, joined by President of the Arizona State Senate Andy Biggs and Speaker of the State House of Representatives Andy Tobin, called on President Barack Obama to allow Grand Canyon National Park to open using private and state money.
The main reason for the emphasis on reopening the Grand Canyon is the loss of tourism dollars being experienced by business near the canyon and in the region. The economic impact of the closures has been felt throughout northern Arizona.
Historically, more than 18,000 people visit the Grand Canyon daily during October, spending an average of $1.2 million each day.
“I’m gratified the Obama administration agreed to reverse its policy and allow Arizona to reopen Grand Canyon, Arizona’s most treasured landmark and a crucial driver of revenue to the state,” said Governor Brewer as she announced the deal with the Department of the Interior.
“With a long weekend in front of us, I am thrilled Grand Canyon will be open and fully operational–not only for our national and global travelers who have long-awaited to experience one of the world’s Seven Natural Wonders, but for the nearby businesses and communities whose livelihood depends on the tourism it attracts,” said Brewer. She also acknowledged contributions to the effort by Greg Bryan, mayor of Tusayan, who pledged private and town dollars to ensure the park is reopened.
“I also thank the Arizona Office of Tourism, Arizona Department of Administration, the Arizona State Treasurer and private businesses for their leadership and contributions to this important effort,” Brewer said. She went on to state that the deal, under which the state will pay the National Park Service $651,000, $93,000 per-day for seven days, is only a temporary fix.
“While this deal will buy us some time and bring back lost revenue to the state, I would hope our elected officials in Washington move urgently to negotiate an immediate end to this government standstill,” Brewer said. “Arizona is doing what it can to keep the Grand Canyon up and running, but we cannot pay the federal government’s tab for long.”
Under the agreement negotiated by Brewer, the state will fully fund park operations for up to at least seven days using state and other monies. A total of $400,000 of the money comes from the state’s Office of Tourism. Brewer’s office also urged the Arizona congressional delegation to work toward securing reimbursement of all state money used to reopen the Grand Canyon.
The state will continue to assess next steps if the federal shutdown has not ended in those seven days.
“This was a reasonable solution at the right time for the right purpose,” Brewer said at a news conference reopening the canyon Saturday. “This will bring an enormous amount of revenue to the economy, to the State of Arizona and into our tax coffers, so it was the right thing to do.”
Along with the reopening of the Grand Canyon, there was also good news for Arizona fishermen who were locked out of the Glen Canyon National Recreation Area with the government shutdown. The recreation area includes Lake Powell and Lee’s Ferry, two of the premiere fishing destinations in the state.
Under an agreement with the State of Utah, engineered by Utah Governor Gary Herbert, and signed by Jewell and the National Park Service, the Department of Interior has agreed to re-open the state’s five national parks, Zion, Capitol Reef, Arches, Canyonlands and Bryce Canyon, as well as Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments, and Glen Canyon.
The recreation area, including Lake Powell, was scheduled to open on Saturday from Glen Canyon Dam to Lee’s Ferry and including Lake Powell. Because of Brewer’s successful negotiations with Jewell, though, the Colorado River is expected to open all the way through Grand Canyon National Park.
Under the Utah agreement the state will pay $1.67 million, $166,572 per day, to reopen the eight national sites for up to 10 days. Under the terms of the agreement, the state will received a refund of unused monies should the federal government shutdown end before the 10 days have passed.
The last time the government shut down, in 1995, the state was eventually reimbursed by the National Park Service. Jewell has said she cannot guarantee the states will receive refunds for any of the monies they spend to keep the national parks open and it will be up to Congress to authorize refunds, if there are to be any.
The commission has not yet received a reply to its letters to the directors of the National Park Service, U.S. Forest Service, and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
Brewer said the state is committed to keeping the canyon open and if the federal government shutdown is not ended in seven days, “We’ll have to reassess.”
By Nick Worth