Republicans, Communities Demand Answers on Park Closures

Friday, 04 Oct 2013 12:22 PM

By Sandy Fitzgerald

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The Obama administration wants to make the government shutdown as painful as possible for Americans, key Republicans say, as they question why open-air memorials and otehr popular services were immediately ordered closed while other government functions stay open.

The World War II Memorial in Washington, D.C., has become a lightning rod in the shutdown battle, especially after veterans stormed past barricades Tuesday to visit it on the first day of the shutdown.

Several other closures, Republicans say, are being done at considerable cost to the government to prove a point, not to avoid spending.

Story continues below video.



House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., and Rep. John Mica, R-Fla. wrote to National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis, saying they're concerned with the agency's allocation of funding to shut down monuments, particularly since many are not fenced in.

"Our concerns are heightened due to NPS’s suspicious decisions during the lead-up to the sequester," the two lawmakers wrote, complaining that during the last budget crisis, "the committee uncovered evidence that NPS's budgetary decisions were designed to intentionally cause the most disruption to the public in a time of reduced funding."

They noted that the World War II Memorial, located on the National Mall and flanked by the Washington and Lincoln memorials, is normally "unimpeded by fences, barricades, and other obstructions" and remains open 24/7.

However, upon news of the government shutdown, barricades and signs about the shutdown immediately went up, and guards were posted. Issa and Mica, in their letter, demand a response by Oct. 17 concerning how much the NPS spent to shut down the memorials and how much it is costing them to stay shut down.

They also want copies of all correspondence leading to the decision to close the monuments.

"It is imperative that the Park Service remove the barriers and allow the American public to resume visiting these open-air memorials, monuments, and parks without further delay," they wrote.

NPS Spokeswoman Carol Johnson, though, said that the closures were unavoidable, reports Politico.

"The National Park Service depends on congressional appropriations to stay open," Johnson said. "With the lapse in appropriations, we had to close all 401 national parks and furlough more than 20,000 employees.

"Without staff or funding to ensure the safety of visitors, the security of the memorials, and the continued operation and maintenance of park facilities, the memorials on the National Mall – just like Yellowstone and the Grand Canyon – are closed.”

Republicans are pushing to allow some services to be funded during the shutdown, but Democrats reject the piecemeal attempt. As the battle goes on, not only the parks are closed, but also popular attractions, like Washington's National Zoo and its "panda-cam" were immediately shut down, prompting even more complaints, reports ABC News.

Meanwhile, the decision to close the country's national parks is already sparking ire among tourists and vacationers, reports The Star Tribune in Casper, Wyo., located near Yellowstone National Park.

Yellowstone was shut down immediately at 8 a.m. Tuesday and tourists were ordered to leave and seek refuge at area hotels.

"They were pretty livid," Steve Franklin, a host at the Irma Hotel, built by Yellowstone pioneer Buffalo Bill Cody, told the newspaper.

In addition to closing the parks, the Park Service website is down, and even employees working in Washington to guard the monuments aren't being paid.

Yellowstone Park spokesman Al Nash said that the national landmark averages 54,000 visitors in the first week of October.

The park's shuttering will cost the local economy big bucks as well. Scott Balyo, executive director of the Cody Country Chamber of Commerce, said businesses could lose $200,000 to $300,000 a day if the shutdown lasts, and in Jackson Hole — near Grand Teton national Park — businesses are expecting to lose $4 million, said Chamber Director of Visitor Services.

Overall, the National Parks Conservation Association in Washington said communities near the parks could lose as much as $30 million per day as long as the shutdown continues.

Joan Anzelmo, a former park superintendent who is now spokeswoman for the Coalition of National Park Services Retirees, told the newspaper that federal agencies are hit too hard in budget battles.

"It's an incredibly sad statement in the affairs of our country when the federal workforce is continued to be used as pawns every time Congress wants to have a battle,” she said.

Related stories:
Shutdown Hampers Park Search for Missing Doctor
Businesses Worry About a Prolonged Shutdown








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