By Nick Worth
Petrified Forest National Park is among the parks listed in a recent report detailing the deferred maintenance backlog in the National Park System.
In the 208-page report compiled by Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., Coburn states there is an $11.5 billion deferred maintenance backlog in the National Park System, a fact which he blames on Congress not appropriating enough money to maintain the current parks, while it continues to add parks to the system. The report estimates $52.5 million would be the cost to complete needed work at Petrified Forest.
In the report, Coburn gives a detailed overview of the National Park System, how it functions and where its funding comes from.
Coburn notes in his report that the National Park System currently contains 401 sites ranging from full-fledged national parks, like Petrified Forest and the Grand Canyon, to lesser sites like various presidential birth homes, scenic rivers and trails, national battlefields, and national seashores and lakeshores, among others.
The problem, Coburn notes, comes from Congress not appropriating enough money to maintain the infrastructure, approximately $700 million annually just to keep the backlog from growing past the current $11.5 billion.
The report puts the problem in perspective with a quote from a former House Appropriation Chairman who oversaw the parks budget: “It’s not very sexy to fix a sewer system or maintain a trail. You don’t get headlines for that. It would be nice to get them more money, but we’re constrained.”
In a 1997 report to the President titled Preserving Historic Structures in the National Park System, the National Park Service (NPS) stated, “Based on identified maintenance, rehabilitation and development needs, the NPS does not have and never has had enough funds or staff to care for all the resources in its custody.”
Coburn goes on to state that both parties’ administrations have realized the deferred maintenance problem and have given lip service to solving it, but have done nothing.
Coburn’s report listed all national parks, monuments and historic sites with a maintenance backlog. The heaviest hitters were Yosemite and Yellowstone, with a combined maintenance backlog of over $1 billion.
Among the 20 sites listed for Arizona, the Grand Canyon has the largest backlog at $405,617,854. The Glen Canyon Recreational Area, shared with the state of Utah, has $94,782,704 in backlogged maintenance. Petrified Forest National Park came in third at $52,563,252.
According to Petrified Forest Supervisor Brad Traver, there are several pending maintenance projects at the park that account for that $52.5 million.
“The first one is our main entrance road,” said Traver. He noted that the road is under control of the Federal Highway Administration (FHA), as are all public roads in all national parks.
Traver said the FHA has identified 13 miles of the 26 miles that need to be rehabilitated.
“That alone will cost more than $10 million,” said Traver. “That does not include parking areas and road surfaces in our residential areas, which are in terrible shape.”
Traver estimated another $300,000 or so to fix those road problems.
Another big ticket item in need of repair is the park’s water supply pipeline.
The pipeline was installed in 1937 by workers of the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC).
“This summer we had seven breaks in the water line,” Traver said. “It broke every week for seven weeks in a row. It breaks frequently.”
Traver said three miles of the line was replaced this year at a cost of $500,000. To replace the entire 29 miles of the line that runs from the north park to the south will cost more than $10 million.
Another big project is the waste water system at the south end of the park.
“We get written up regularly by the Public Health Service,” Traver said. He said there are three wastewater lagoons, one of which has a ruptured liner. Traver said the lagoons are not leaking wastewater.
In addition to the ruptured liner there are other problems at the site.
“A wash runs next to them that is getting closer as the years go by,” Traver continued, “so we’ll have to relocate the lagoons.”
He estimated that project would run up a tab of more than $500,000.
“The next big chunk are the buildings,” said Traver. “All the buildings at the south end were built in the 1930s by the CCC. Buildings at the north end of the complex were built in the ‘50s and ‘60s.
“All our buildings are on the National Register of Historic Places,” Traver said. “They all need a lot of work.”
He said the Painted Desert Community Complex at the north end of the park, which houses the park headquarters, visitors center, gift shop, employee housing, maintenance shop and paleontology lab, all have had foundation problems since they were built. One foundation rebuild project was completed in 2010, and others are planned for 2014 and 2015.
“We’re trying to space them out,” Traver said. He added that it is not only foundation problems plaguing the buildings. Windows, roofs and other parts of the structures all have problems, including masonry cracks, caused by the bad foundations.
“We’re not up to energy code or accessibility standards,” Traver said. “We don’t have elevators needed for egress in the second story of some buildings.
On the south end of the park, things are a little better, but there is still some work to be done.
“We spent a lot of money at Painted Desert Inn over the last decade,” Traver said. “There’s not a lot left to do over there.”
He noted that some of the remaining work to be done is in the Rainbow Forest Museum.
“The museum has some problems,” Traver said. He said the mortar between the stones is cracked and needs to be replaced.
“We’d like to restore the museum to its original appearance,” Traver said. “It has a newer drop ceiling in there we want to get rid of so we can utilize that space. Also there is a skylight that’s covered up.”
Traver ended by saying a lot of other work is needed throughout the park. He would not comment on the Coburn report.
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By Nick Worth