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Utah panel backs more spending on park reopenings

Published on NewsOK Modified: October 15, 2013 at 6:36 pm •  Published: October 15, 2013

SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — A legislative committee on Tuesday endorsed spending another $7 million to keep Utah's national parks open through Dec. 1.

The proposal was approved by the Executive Appropriations Committee and will now be considered by both chambers of the Legislature, which is convening for a special session Wednesday.

The measure is one of several that lawmakers are considering to offset the economic hit from the partial shutdown of the federal government.

Utah Gov. Gary Herbert previously authorized $1.67 million in state funds to reopen the five national parks in the state and three other federal recreation areas. The parks had been closed since Oct. 1 due to the shutdown.

This new money would ensure the areas don't close again on Oct. 21, when that initial funding dries up.

State Sen. Stuart Adams, a Layton Republican, sponsored the latest proposal, which would require the committee to approve spending the money every week.

"The national parks have hundreds of thousands of visitors every month," Adams said. "It's important for us that those parks stay open, important to the economy of the entire state of Utah."

The money would keep the parks open through the end of the heaviest part of Utah's tourism season, if the shutdown continues that long.

More than 400 national parks, recreation areas and monuments have been closed since Oct. 1 due to the shutdown.

The Obama administration announced last Thursday it would allow states to pay to reopen parks within their borders. Utah was the first state to jump at the offer as a temporary lifeline for the state's tourist season.

The agreement Herbert struck with federal officials keeps those spaces open at a cost of $167,000 a day and brought some relief to hotels, shops and tour companies that rely on tourists.

It's unclear if states will ever recoup the money paid to the federal government to reopen the parks.

Federal officials have said there are no plans to pay states back once the shutdown ends, but U.S. Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., has introduced legislation that would reimburse states for the costs of reopening and operating the parks.

Utah's four U.S. representatives — Democrat Jim Matheson and Republicans Jason Chaffetz, Chris Stewart and Rob Bishop — all signed on as co-sponsors.


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