YOU ARE HERE: LAT HomeCollections

The State

Parks Target Repair Projects to Pay for Anti-Terror Efforts

Some $4.6 million for work in Yosemite and elsewhere would be diverted to help cover the costs of stepped-up security by rangers.

May 15, 2003|Julie Cart | Times Staff Writer

The National Park Service is proposing to cut millions of dollars for repair projects in California and elsewhere in the West in order to pay for nearly $20 million in expenses for deploying rangers to thwart terrorists.

Among the California projects that would be shelved are repair of a collapsed tunnel drain at Yosemite National Park, seismic safety repairs for 18 buildings at Golden Gate National Recreation Area, museum storage upgrades at Death Valley, a water project at Whiskeytown National Recreation Area and $400,000 in repairs and seismic retrofitting for buildings at Channel Islands National Park.

A small portion of the $20 million -- $1.6 million -- is earmarked to administer the Bush administration's initiative to privatize as much as 70% of the jobs in the National Park Service.

According to internal documents provided to The Times, $4.6 million of the money of the western region's repair budget would be lost under the proposal.

The May 7 memo from Cynthia Ip, the chief budget officer for the Park Service's Pacific West region, to park superintendents in the region, outlines a 28% cut in the regional repair and rehabilitation budget.

A spreadsheet identifies 10 parks where such projects are now on hold.

The cuts must be approved by the Department of the Interior, which oversees the Park Service. And, because the funds were allocated by Congress, the proposal must receive approval from lawmakers.

The Park Service has a repair budget of nearly $85 million for upkeep at 388 park sites. The agency's maintenance backlog has been pegged by the General Accounting Office at $5 billion.

Critics point out that President Bush has repeatedly pledged to erase the Park Service's maintenance backlog, but claim he's failed to follow through.

"He's not putting his money where his mouth is," said Courtney Cuff, the Pacific regional director of the National Parks Conservation Assn., a parks advocacy group. "It'll be an incremental erosion instead of responsible investment. We will over time see the luster come off these incredible places. We are going in the wrong direction."

Park Service Director Fran Mainella warned in an internal memo last month that the money spent to plan for hiring private employees could lead to diminished visitor services and undermine the agency's efforts to create a more ethnically diverse workforce.

On Wednesday the Park Service's Washington office downplayed the cuts, saying efforts would be made to maintain park standards.

"The Park Service has looked at funding options that would allow us to have the least impact on park operations," spokesman Elaine Sevy said.

In recent weeks a bipartisan group of lawmakers requested that the House and Senate appropriations committees increase the Park Service operations budget by $102 million over Bush's $1.6-billion proposed budget.

The agency has been spending as much as $2 million a month this year to pay for stepped-up security at parks across the country.

Since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, Park Service law enforcement officers from around the country have been redeployed at the nation's "icon parks," such as the Statue of Liberty, the Golden Gate Bridge and Yosemite.

With the lowering of the Code Orange alert level, park rangers are now returning to their home parks.

Los Angeles Times Articles