Government shutdown update: Utah parks reopening; Arizona next?

Leaders in Utah say they found a way to get around the government shutdown.

Utah will reopen its five national parks by Saturday, as well as three other nationally run locations.

Utah's Governor Gary Herbert made the announcement Thursday, saying a deal had been reached with the U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Sally Jewell.

"Utah agrees to pay the National Park Service (NPS) up to $1.67 million--- $166,572 per day---to re-open eight national sites in Utah for up to 10 days. If the federal government shutdown ends before then, the State will receive a refund of unused monies" an official press statement explained.

The deal would reopen Arches, Bryce Canyon, Canyonlands, Capitol Reef, and Zion national parks. The other three locations that will be opened are Natural Bridges and Cedar Breaks national monuments, as well as Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.

"Utah's national parks are the backbone of many rural economies and hard-working Utahns are paying a heavy price for this shutdown," Herbert said in the released statement. "I commend Secretary Jewell for being open to Utah's solution, and the world should know Utah is open for business and visitors are welcome."

Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer is open to paying for a partial reopening of the Grand Canyon National Park but is rejecting the Interior Department's insistence that state money pay for the whole operation to reopen until the federal budget stalemate ends.

The Interior Department changed course Thursday after days of politely rejecting proposals from governors in at least four states who offered to use state money to reopen their national parks.

Brewer then had a "short but productive" call with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell that did not lead to a formal offer, spokesman Andrew Wilder said. Expected follow-up talks between staff did not take place Thursday, so there's no time frame for a reopening.

As for Utah, October is an especially profitable month for its national parks, since optimal weather attracts a high volume of tourists. Typically, officials estimate a $100 million yield for the month, so the parks' closures would have had an especially high impact on the state.

The Department of the Interior is now awaiting a transfer of funds from Utah, at which point it will notify "site-specific" personnel to return to work. The process of opening the parks after receiving the money should take some time, but in a statement from the governor's office, the state anticipates all sites should be "fully operational by Saturday".

In the event that the federal government shutdown drags on longer than the 10 days that have been accounted for, the state of Utah insists it would be able to make additional payments to keep the parks operational.

The agreement between Herbert and Jewell stipulates that the money spent by the state can be reimbursed with Congressional approval. However, as with other funds spent during the shutdown, Congress is under no obligation to refund the bill.

It seems Herbert is quite intent on pursuing repayment, with his office telling reporters "the Governor has engaged Utah's congressional delegation to actively pursue timely repayment to state coffers."

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