Feds considering offers to reopen Grand Canyon

Posted: Updated:
By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

FLAGSTAFF, Ariz. (AP) -- 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.

The Grand Canyon draws about 18,000 people of day this time of year who pump an estimated $1 million daily into the local economy.

The biggest issue will be the insistence that state pick up the tab for reopening the entire park, at a daily cost of $112,000. Park Superintendent Dave Uberuaga said earlier this week it reopen within a matter of hours if it had the funding.

But that's well above an estimated $30,000 a day that would fund a partial reopening.

"Everybody in Arizona agrees that a partial reopening would achieve what everybody wants as a temporary measure to get the tourist back in the canyon and that tourist money flowing to the business surrounding the canyon," Wilder said.

That's what Arizona did during the last shutdown in 1995, paying about $16,000 a day to open the road to Mather Point on the South Rim but leaving park hotels and other areas closed.

National Park Service spokesman Mike Litterst said negotiations would be to open entire parks with full staffing. For the Grand Canyon, that's 1.2 million acres and more than 550 government employees - most of whom are furloughed right now.

"It gets too complicated when you're trying to do sections of park and you still have areas barricaded off," he said.

The town of Tusayan, just outside the park's South Rim entrance, and businesses have pledged $400,000 to reopen the canyon. The state hasn't said how much it would be willing to contribute.

Tusayan Mayor Greg Bryan said he hopes the Interior Department's move isn't political posturing but a genuine effort to bring back the 18,000 people who typically visit the Grand Canyon daily in October. Everyone from river rafters to hikers, tour guides, local businesses, concessionaires, federal employees and tourists have been impacted by the park's closure. Visitor spending supports some 7,360 jobs in Arizona.

Wilder said it isn't clear if the Interior Department could accept private funds. But he said Brewer could shift funds to pay for a partial reopening.

If she decides legislative approval is required it should not be difficult, said Rep. John Kavanagh, who heads the House Appropriations Committee.

"It would be economically foolish not to do this," said Kavanagh, R-Fountain Hills.

Rep. Chad Campbell, the minority leader, said he's not opposed to reopening the Grand Canyon with state money. But he said legislators need to make sure it's affordable and that it's not done at the sacrifice of other needs.

"The bottom line is the politicians in (Washington) D.C. need to deal with this - this is getting stupid," said Campbell, D-Phoenix.

Wilder said another glitch is that the government isn't promising to repay states that step up to reopen their parks, a deal Arizona received in 1995.

"The 1995 agreement should serve as a model for a reopening in 2013," Wilder said.

Arizona's U.S. senators, John McCain and Jeff Flake, issued a joint statement saying the Park Service shouldn't rule out a partial reopening. Most people who visit the Grand Canyon go to the South Rim.

U.S. Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick, whose district includes the Grand Canyon, said Thursday that she was glad the Obama administration listened to concerns from within Arizona and will allow for states to step in with their own resources.

Jon Heidelberger is crossing his fingers that the Grand Canyon reopens before his scheduled Oct. 19 launch on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. The Sandy, Utah, resident is traveling to Arizona with 15 others for the trip.

"It's kind of the holy grail of Grand Canyon river trips to get an October permit," he said. "It's the best weather."


Associated Press Writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report

© 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.