Maryville Daily Times: Alexander seeks final repayment for state, counties, reopening Smokies Park in 2013 shutdown

Posted on January 13, 2015

Blount County could get back the last $6,010 of the money it contributed to reopening Great Smoky Mountains National Park during the 2013 government shutdown back if a bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander passes.

On Monday, Alexander, R-Tenn., co-sponsored legislation with Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., to reimburse states that provided their own funds to keep the national parks in their state open during the federal government shutdown.

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s greatest treasures, which was forced to be shut down during its prime tourist season, a time when the park welcomes the most visitors and the surrounding businesses make most of their money,” Alexander said. “This legislation would help relieve the pain caused in these areas and their surrounding communities and ensure Tennessee taxpayers won’t have to pay the price for keeping them open.”

The National Park Access Act would reimburse the six states (Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) that paid the National Park Service approximately $2 million of state and local money to keep the national parks in their states open during the federal government shutdown.

Blount County has already been refunded $24,040 of the $30,050 it contributed to reopening GSMNP. The state had paid 80 percent of the total cost of opening the Park in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County, with Sevier and Blount counties splitting the remaining $60,100. Only one day’s worth of funds were actually needed.

Officials previously said that Blount County would get the remaining money back one way or another. Private donations were offered to reimburse the county if no legislative fix occurs.

GSMNP cost about $60,100 to operate per day in 2013, according to the National Park Service. The partners ended up paying for operations on Oct. 16, 2013, the last day of the government shutdown.

During the government shutdown, Alexander introduced similar legislation, The Protecting States, Opening National Parks Act, to reimburse states within 90 days for all state funds used to reopen national parks while the federal government was shut down.

The legislation gives the National Park Service the congressional authority it needs to pay back states from $2 million in retroactive funding approved when the shutdown ended in 2013.