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Environment and Outdoors

$6 Billion Bill Could Help Acadia, Park System Tackle Deferred Maintenance Backlog

Robert F. Bukaty
Associated Press file
A pair of bicyclists ride down the Park Loop Road near Jordan Pond, Wednesday, May 1, 2013, at Acadia National Park in Maine.

Maine’s newest national park, the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, was the subject of much debate before it was declared by former President Barack Obama. It survived a challenge from former Gov. Paul LePage, who tried to get the Trump administration to reverse the designation.

Katahdin came with an endowment to pay for its upkeep. But the Pew Charitable trusts says other, older national parks in Maine and elsewhere have an almost $12 billion maintenance backlog. Pew is supporting a funding measure.

Pew project manager Marcia Argust spoke with Morning Edition host Irwin Gratz about the need, and the bill.

Gratz: How has this backlog grown so large?

Argust: The National Park Service is over 100 years old and with age some of its facilities and infrastructure are deteriorating. And also there is inadequate annual federal funding to address these repairs.

Now what is the toll of the park aging on the visitor experience? What are people noticing about this deferred maintenance?

We’re talking about deteriorating buildings and that includes historic buildings and even employee housing. We’re talking about crumbling roads and eroding trails that sometimes need to be closed for safety reasons. And we’re also talking about aging water and sewage systems. Sometimes there are bathrooms that are backing up or water lines that need to be replaced because they’re over 50 or 60 years old and there are safety concerns about lead. And you also have very outdated visitor centers and campgrounds.

Do you have some specific information about which of those problems are occurring at the National Park Service installations here in Maine?

The biggest issue in Maine is with Acadia National Park. In Acadia there’s $65 million in repair needs. Now some of those are at Hulls Cove Visitors Center, the main visitor center. For instance, if you’re in a wheelchair you need to access the visitor’s center from the back. There’s no way to go through the main entrance. Another issue is the maintenance shed. So that doesn’t sound like a sexy issue. But that building houses all the machinery and the fleets of vehicles that maintain that park. And yet that building has a 1 inch wide crack in the cinderblock wall and that crack goes from the roof to the foundation. It also has a roof that is caving in and leaking and in the summer during high season there is one bathroom for over 100 staff.

So tell us a little bit about the legislation that is before Congress to deal with this backlog. Does it contain enough money to deal with the entire backlog?

It would provide over $6 billion over five years to address priority repairs. And we feel that certainly would help the Park Service address a big chunk of necessary repairs. I should add that the entire Maine delegation is supportive of that bill. In fact, independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine has been a lead on that legislation.

Where would the money to fund this come from?

The funds to finance the bill would come from royalties from energy development on federally owned lands and water. And this is a decades-old concept based on legislation that has been on the books since the 1920s and the 1950s.

This interview has been edited for clarity.

An original version of this post misspelled Marcia Argust's name. It has been corrected.