I've previously written that the Bush administration's proposed Centennial Initiative appears to pay little attention to the National Park Service's ballooning $8 billion maintenance backlog. Some others are beginning to notice that, too.
We've heard about composting toilets, bicycle trails, jazz museums and mosquito wars in the list of projects dubbed "eligible" for Centennial Initiative funding, but little if anything about projects that would directly chew into that maintenance backlog.
Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility has noticed that disconnect as well.
Today the group shipped out a press release to point out that:
* There is little overlap between selected Centennial projects and the ballooning NPS deferred maintenance backlog, now estimated by park officials at approximately $8 billion;
* New visitor centers, trails and other infrastructure funded by the initiative will add to park maintenance needs, and;
* Donor influence may lead to selection of questionable projects. PEER points to a specialized bike trail slated to be built from scratch at Big Bend National Park as a prime example.
"Waste water treatment plants are not sexy sells for recruiting prestige-minded private partners but our park system cannot continue to ignore sewage and its other housekeeping needs," says Frank Buono, a former Park Service manager who now is a member of PEER's board of directors. "Subsisting on low hanging fruit is not a sustainable diet."
The group also notes that so far the Centennial Initiative process has ignored land acquisitions for the parks or purchases of vital water rights.
The private partnership nature of the Centennial Initiative also raises the danger that special interests can demand customized projects that do not serve park needs in return for their donations. The bike trail at Big Bend, for example, will be designed to resemble a racecourse, to maximize thrill, thus precluding other users. Big Bend already has more than 200 miles of existing trails, yet none of the existing trails will be used. Even with an International Mountain Biking Association "partnership," NPS would still have to produce $60,000 as its share of new trail construction, and additional sums for future maintenance.