WASHINGTON, D.C. — When filmmaker Ken Burns put a spotlight on our National Parks, his documentary carried the subtitle "America's Best Idea." While that may be true, the nation's care of them has been less than stellar with budgets that have kept the lights on and the workers paid but not allowing for much more.
"The annual budget of the parks wasn't paying for the capital expenditures,” said Sen. Rob Portman.
So it was like owning a home but only budgeting for the utilities, not the new roof. Kicking the can down the road has resulted in a national parks backlog of $12.5 billion in deferred maintenance projects. At the Cuyahoga Valley National Park, the 13th most visited in the system, the total cost of repairs needed is $51 million.
“And they've got an annual budget of around $10 or $11 million bucks,” Portman said. That’s why he came up with the "Restore Our Parks Act." Several years in the making it sets up a steady source of funding for capital projects.
"The funding comes from onshore and offshore oil and gas and other energy projects and the royalties from that that now goes into the federal government some of that will be diverted for this use,” he said.
Other deferred maintenance projects in Northeast Ohio include $882,000 at the First Ladies National Historic Site in Canton, $1.2 million at the President Garfield National Historic Site in Mentor and $48.4 million at the Perry's Victory and International Peace Memorial in Put-in-Bay.
"The monument is spectacular you can up on top of it, all of that is at risk because the sea wall that keeps Lake Erie from coming on to Put-in-Bay there is crumbling and it's crumbling to the point where you can't even go on the seawall in places and they've got sink holes and so on, that's a huge expense,” he said. “That seawall could never be fixed with the annual budget that Perry gets. I mean there's just no way, the Perry budget covers the rangers, it covers the programs but it can't cover those kinds of capital expenses.”
The Save our Parks Act passed the Senate this week with bipartisan support including Ohio’s senior senator, Democrat Sherrod Brown.
"With millions of dollars available in Ohio it will mean that we will be able to keep our national parks and national forests as pristine and available and accessible to the public as possible,” Brown said.
The bill now is on to the House where Portman is hopeful it can be quickly adopted without much change.
“I think before 4th of July, which is good timing because the parks will start to open, we’ll have this commitment to make sure our parks are there for future generations,” he said.