President Bush has sent to Congress a proposed $2.4 billion 2009 budget for the National Park Service that continues to cannibalize the agency at a time when it can least afford it.
While the proposal continues to support overall park operations, targeting $2.13 billion for that side of the budget (a $160.9 million, or 8.2%, bump from current levels), it also would cut the Park Service's construction budget (which is used, for instance, to replace leaky roofs and sewer systems) by some $46 million, down to $172 million, a 21.1 percent drop.
Also in line for a cut, by $21.9 million, or 32.5 percent, is the agency's National Recreation and Preservation account, which funds community efforts across the country to preserve natural and cultural resources.
Slated to drop $48.1 million, or 69.8 percent, is funding for Land Acquisition and State Assistance. That's the money normally used to buy inholdings, such as the one in Zion National Park that the Park Service couldn't afford to buy because this funding source was lacking.
The budget does request an extra $100 million to go toward preparing for the Park Service's centennial in 2016, but so far Congress hasn't been entirely keen on that idea.
Somehow Park Service Director Mary Bomar, who was said to be traveling today and unavailable for comment, was able to applaud the budget proposal. In a Park Service release the director said the president's proposal "will help the National Park Service prepare for our centennial in 2016 by focusing resources on vital aspects of our mission."
Her glee was not shared across the parks community.
For instance, that drop in construction funding, if supported by Congress, will "further diminish the Park Service's ability to address the multi-billion-dollar maintenance backlog," says the National Parks Conservation Association.
"We sincerely appreciate Secretary (Dirk) Kempthorne's continued and important efforts to invest in the annual needs of the parks, as this enables the National Park Service to put rangers back into America's parks to take care of these natural and cultural treasures and inspire visitors," said NPCA President Tom Kiernan. "But this much-needed operating budget increase must not come at the expense of other important park programs. Our nation's heritage should not be compromised."
At the Coalition of National Park Service Retirees, Bill Wade had one word to describe the budget: "Puny."
"From what I’ve looked at there’s only one good part in it; it does specify an increase in operations budgeting," said Mr. Wade, who chairs the group's executive council. "But again, it’s not nearly enough given that the deficit in the annual operation is something like $800 million.”
Even the increase in operations funding isn't that positive when you realize that was achieved through cuts to other areas, such as construction and land acquisition, he added.
“All in all it’s not very good in my opinion,” said Mr. Wade.
Of course, what you must remember before reading too much into this budget is that President Bush is a lame duck, and his budget more than likely will be DOA. Just the same, funding is incredibly tight across the federal landscape thanks to the war in Iraq and the ailing economy, so who knows what Congress will propose.
Nevertheless, if you're a park lover you have to be concerned by this blueprint.
While the Park Service has an estimated $8 billion in backlogged maintenance needs, the president's proposal makes minor inroads into that total. Of the $172 million proposed for construction and major maintenance, 16 projects will chew up roughly $85 million. Those projects are:
* Redwood National Park, $5.48 million to continue a project to relocate and replace a maintenance facility ;
* Rocky Mountain National Park, $1.27 million to correct safety problems at the Grand Lake entrance station;
* National Mall and Memorial Parks, $10 million to rebuild the seawall along the Tidal Basin near the Jefferson Memorial;
* Everglades National Park, $10 million to continue efforts to modify the water delivery system through the park;
* Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historic Site, $1.6 million to wipe out mold;
* Boston National Historical Park, $3.9 million to drydock and rehabilitate the hull of the USS Cassin Young;
* Denali National Park and Preserve, $2.5 million to replace the Savage area reststops;
* Bandelier National Monument, $3.2 million to rehabilitate historic landmark district visitor center;
* Cape Hatteras National Seashore, $3 million to preserve and rehab the Bodie Island Lighthouse;
* Fort Raleigh National Historic Site, $7.2 million to rehabilitate and renovate the Fort Raleigh Visitors Center, the Lost Colony Activities Center, and the Outer Banks Group Administration headquarters;
* Cuyahoga Valley National Park, $1.9 million to address failing septic systems and $5.1 million to stabilize and preserve Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial;
* Big Bend National Park, $4.8 million to replace the Chisos Basin sewage treatment plant;
* Canyonlands National Park, $784,000 to remove the Needles dump;
* Blue Ridge Parkway, $7.1 million to replace timber guardrails and steel-backed timber guardrails;
* Olympic National Park, $20 million to restore Elwha River ecosystem;
* Vanderbilt Mansion National Historic Site, $2.5 million to replace the roof.