The push by some of the most conservative governors in the nation to get federal workers back on the job comes as President Obama and congressional leaders struggle with how to resolve the budget impasse.
In an interview Friday, Utah Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) said he and Jewell worked out the agreement in the course of three or four conversations in recent days. After initially seeking permission to reopen the park and staff it with volunteers and others provided by the state, he agreed to pay for federal employees to return in order to revive the tourism that sustains several local communities near federal lands.
“This is, for them, their livelihoods,” said Herbert, adding that he has gotten calls from governors around the country seeking his advice. “It’s not just a little bit of it, it’s all of it. And it’s seasonal. Once you lose October, you can’t make it up in January.”
By Friday night, Jewell had managed to strike deals with leaders in five states to reopen iconic sites, with states fronting the money to operate them.
National Park Service director Jon Jarvis signed an agreement in which Utah provides nearly $1.7 million for 10 days of operation at eight federal properties: Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef and Zion national parks, along with Glen Canyon National Recreation Area and the Cedar Breaks and Natural Bridges national monuments.
Colorado signed a similar pact, offering to pay the federal government $362,700 to reopen Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days. Arizona will pay $651,000 to operate the Grand Canyon for seven days, while New York agreed to pay $369,300 to reopen the Statue of Liberty for six days. South Dakota will reopen Mount Rushmore on Monday, paying $152,000 to operate it for 10 days.
All five states will likely seek reimbursement from the federal government once the shutdown ends, but such payments would have to be specifically authorized by Congress.
While the Park Service had originally resisted the idea of accepting donations from outside groups or individual states to reopen sites, the Interior Department reversed course as the shutdown dragged on and state and local leaders warned that their economies were in peril. Five Utah counties declared a state of emergency after the parks’ closures.
On Thursday, Jewell discussed park operations with Herbert and three other governors: Arizona’s Jan Brewer (R), Colorado’s John Hickenlooper (D) and South Dakota’s Dennis Daugaard (R).