By: Michael Campbell, News Editor
PRINCE GEORGE – Some of the nation’s treasures are in need of serious repairs following years of delayed maintenance and now the lawmaker who helped expand Petersburg National Battlefield is working to address issues at the facility and throughout the National Park Service.
Last week, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) and Rob Portman (R-OH) introduced the National Park Service Legacy Act, a bipartisan piece of legislation that would address a $12 billion maintenance backlog at the National Park Service.
Federal funding for park maintenance has dropped by 40 percent over the past decade, resulting in parks opting to place key repair projects in the “deferred maintenance” category, which the National Park Service defined as “maintenance that was not performed at the required intervals to ensure an acceptable facility condition to support the expected life cycle of an asset.”
According to the most current data provided by the agency, from the 2015 federal budget year, a total of $11.9 billion in maintenance was deferred during that year, with nearly $6 billion of those projects being related to “paved roads and structures,” such as bridges, tunnels, paved parking area and paved roadways.
Another $6 billion in deferred maintenance was connected to “other facilities,” including unpaved parking areas, unpaved roadways, utility systems, dams, constructed waterways, marinas, aviation systems, railroads, ships, monuments, fortifications, towers, interpretive media, and amphitheaters.
Of the more than 75,000 assets across America maintained by NPS, 41,000, accounting for more than half of them, are in need of repairs, from campgrounds, natural lands, historic trails, irrigation and electrical systems, as well as thousands of miles of roads.
The goal of the legislation would help establish a National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund to help reduce the massive backlog by allocating $500 million annually from current revenues the federal government currently receives from oil and natural gas revenues, every year, until 2047.
“More than 100 years after the founding of the National Park Service, our park system remains in a critical state of disrepair,” Warner remarked, noting that Virginia ranks fifth among states with the greatest need for maintenance, with a total backlog of over $800 million and a total of $163 million in deferred non-transportation maintenance at the commonwealth’s 34 NPS-operated parks, trails and battlefield and historic sites.
“While we’ve heard much talk here in Washington about infrastructure spending, a great way to begin this work is by helping in the revitalization of our public lands and the repair of critical roads and bridges, an investment which can generate $10 in economic activity for every public dollar invested,” the senator continued. “Our bipartisan legislation provides this needed investment by helping ensure that these historically diverse assets are preserved for future generations to enjoy.”
Drilling down into Virginia’s numbers, of the more than $800 million in deferred maintenance projects at the state’s national parks, $8.8 million of that is tied to the Petersburg National Battlefield.
Within that $8.8 million, buildings make up a significant portion of the deferred maintenance total, accounting for over $1.4 million.
Another $1 million in deferred maintenance projects at Petersburg National Battlefield were tied to the park’s trails and paved roads, waste water, and water systems.
A vast majority of the battlefield’s deferred projects fell into the category of “other facilities,” like in the NPS’ report, which included utility systems, monuments, amphitheaters, and other facilities and structures.
As part of Warner and Portman’s legislation, 80 percent of the funds in the National Park Service Legacy Restoration Fund will be dedicated to the repair and rehabilitation of key assets, including historic structures, visitor facilities, water utility systems, disability access, health and safety, and recreation. 20 percent of funds will be allocated to roads, bridges, and other transportation-related projects.
Amounts from the fund will not be used for land acquisition or used in lieu of funding made available for recurring facility operations and maintenance needs of the Park Service.
The bill will also encourage public-private partnerships to help reduce overall deferred maintenance costs by allowing the Secretary of the Interior and Director of the Park Service to accept qualified private donations.
Following the legislation’s unveiling, it was praised for its efforts to deal with the growing infrastructural needs of the nation’s park sites.
“The $12 billion maintenance backlog is an ever-growing challenge for our national parks, which welcomed a record-breaking 331 million visitors last year,” Theresa Pierno, president and CEO of the National Parks Conservation Association, said. “This proposal will put our national parks on the right track. By investing in our national parks, we will not only start to tackle this backlog, but we will make our parks more resilient and prepared to continue welcoming visitors eager to explore our nation’s most important natural and historic places.”
“The provisions of this bill acknowledge that America’s national parks are our inheritance and our legacy,” said Susan Sherman, President of the Shenandoah National Park Trust. “We must invest in them at a level that reflects their true value in terms of biodiversity, historical preservation, recreational opportunities and their contributions to the American economy.
This effort comes months after Warner and a group of Virginia lawmakers introduced legislation to expand Petersburg National Battlefield as part of the National Defense Authorization Act, which helped expand the battlefield by over 7,000 acres, adding additional sites related to the Siege of Petersburg.
That measure passed in late 2016. The National Park Service Legacy Act continues to work its way through Congress following its introduction on March 28.
President Donald Trump has also committed to donating his first quarter salary to the National Park Service, Press Secretary Sean Spicer told the White House Press Pool Monday afternoon.
Copyright 2017 by Womack Publishing
Photo Credit: National Park Service