SALT LAKE CITY — Utah leaders are resigned to the fact that they are likely to never be repaid the nearly $1 million the state spent in 2013 to keep its popular national parks open during a government shutdown.
It would take an act of Congress to get repaid, and Republican U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop acknowledges other priorities have largely overtaken the issue that was once the subject of serious consternation, The Salt Lake Tribune reported .
“But it’s still unfair,” Bishop said, adding he might try to revive the issue before his tenure as House Natural Resources Committee chairman ends when Democrats take control of the U.S. House next year.
Utah wasn’t the only state to reopen the parks on their own dime during the 16-day shutdown. Others that sent the federal government money to keep the lights on included Colorado, Arizona and New York. None was reimbursed.
Colorado spent more than $360,000 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park during the shutdown, Politico reported five years ago.
The shutdown happened in the wake of the state’s devastating 2013 floods, which impacted many of the communities near the park. There were fears about what the compounded problems of the natural disaster and the shutdown would mean for places like Estes Park.
The 2013 government closure was largely blamed on Utah’s GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah and Ted Cruz of Texas, who were determined to block funding for President Barack Obama’s signature health care law.
Along with furloughing hundreds of thousands of federal workers and shuttering offices, the Obama administration closed national parks, saying it would be unsafe for visitors without park rangers on hand.
But with the large role Utah’s parks play in the state’s tourism economy, leaders didn’t want to let them go dark. Gov. Gary Herbert said he’d do it all over again if he had to.
“While we would love to be reimbursed for those funds, it was money well-spent,” Herbert said. The state has a total budget of about $17 billion.
The state wired nearly $1.7 million to the federal government to keep the parks open. Of that, $600,000 wasn’t spent and was returned to the state.
The agreements with Utah and other states did not require reimbursement, but U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said he would be glad to pay it back if Congress passed legislation.
Zinke worked to keep most parks open during a two-day government shutdown in January, and Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift says he has been critical of the decision allowing the parks to close in 2013.
Colorado Sun staff writer Jesse Paul contributed to this report.
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