Bill would create fund for national park maintenance

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer

PORT ANGELES — U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer has co-sponsored a bill that would help maintain national parks, including Olympic National Park in his 6th Congressional District.

Kilmer, D-Gig Harbor, and other lawmakers introduced Wednesday the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, a bipartisan bill to address the $12 billion maintenance backlog in the national park system.

“Listen, the national parks are crown jewels, but they’re a little rusty right now,” Kilmer said in a House Committee on Natural Resources press conference.

“This matters. This isn’t theoretical. People, when they visit Olympic National Park and they visit the Hoh Rain Forest Visitor Center, they want to be able to fill up their water bottles before they take a hike to see one of the most amazing places on earth that all of you should come visit.

“They want to access trails and roads to be able to take advantage of those crown jewels, and often times now they can’t,” Kilmer added.

“So I’m excited that after months of bipartisan negotiations, we’ve finally landed on a pathway forward. My kids are exited because it means more hikes in Olympic National Park and more economic opportunities for more people in more places.”

The 6th District covers the Olympic and Kitsap peninsulas and most of Tacoma.

The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act would divert unallocated federal energy development revenue to a National Park Service Public Lands Restoration Fund to pay for deferred maintenance projects in national parks.

A companion bill, the Restore Our Parks Act, was introduced in the Senate with bipartisan support June 28.

The new bills were largely based on the Kilmer-co-sponsored 2017 National Park Service Legacy Act with some negotiated modifications.

The Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act authorizes more money — up to $1.3 billion compared to the Legacy Act’s $200 million — over a shorter authorization period and provides some funding for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and other agencies that can help maintain the parks, Kilmer spokesman Tim Biba said.

The primary sponsors of the new House bill were U.S. Reps. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, the committee’s ranking member.

Bishop said there are crumbling roads and bridges, leaky pipes and spotty electrical grids at many national parks.

“This is an issue that must be solved, and we cannot wait any longer to do it,” Bishop said at the press conference.

“The longer we wait to solve this problem, the more the problem exacerbates and the worse it becomes.”

Kilmer, a Port Angeles native, said the national parks are loved by Americans and are “key economic drivers of local economies.”

“That’s certainly true in my neck of the woods,” Kilmer said.

“They sustain thousands of jobs in our communities, including ones on the Olympic Peninsula.”

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Reporter Rob Ollikainen can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 56450, or at [email protected].

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