National park funding not covered by budget bill
DENVER (AP) — The U.S. Interior Department says Congress will have to decide whether to repay states that decided to reopen national parks during the partial government shutdown, including more than $360,000 paid by Colorado to operate Rocky Mountain National Park and pay its employees.
Interior Department lawyers said Thursday that Congress failed to explicitly authorize reimbursement to states, including Colorado.
"The funds were donated and we can only reimburse the states if Congress expressly directs us to do so through legislation," said National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst, in a statement.
Last week, Interior Secretary Sally Jewell struck agreements with a handful of governors that allowed shuttered national parks to reopen if states shouldered the costs during the shutdown.
Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper wired the Interior Department $367,700 Friday so furloughed federal employees at Rocky Mountain National Park could return to work Saturday and Sunday.
The Rocky Mountain National Park area, including the town of Estes Park, was hit particularly hard during the early days of the 16-day government shutdown.
The park and businesses in the town were just starting to reopen and rebuild after the devastation of the September floods when the government shutdown closed the park during the fall color peak.
After Hickenlooper agreed to pay to reopen it, more than 10,000 visitors showed up last weekend.
Governors in South Dakota, Utah, New York and Arizona struck similar agreements with the Interior Department.
The $367,700 payment was the amount of money it costs to run Rocky Mountain National Park for 10 days, according to the National Park Service. Since the partial shutdown ended before those 10 days were up, the state will get some of that money back.
Colorado lawmakers say they will introduce legislation to get the rest of the money back.