State, fed officials to talk of canyon reopening

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By Mike Gertzman By Mike Gertzman

PHOENIX (AP) -- Arizona is balking at paying for a full reopening of the Grand Canyon at a cost of $112,000 a day, but state officials plan to speak with Interior Department staff on Friday to try to reach a compromise.

A partial reopening, like the state engineered after the 1995 federal shutdown, would be cheaper but still allow tourists to visit and businesses to benefit, Gov. Jan Brewer spokesman Andrew Wilder said Friday.
  
The Grand Canyon draws about 18,000 visitors a day this time of year. They pump an estimated $1 million daily into the local economy.

The Interior Department said Thursday that states opting to reopen their parks can't choose that partial option because it would be too complicated. Officials also said states wouldn't be repaid for the money they spend to reopen the park, another point of contention for Arizona officials.
  
"Nobody has made the case why a full, complete reopening is necessary," Wilder said. "The daily cost difference is enormous, especially without assurances that Arizona will be reimbursed."
  
That position frustrated the general manager of a hotel in Tusayan that has seen occupancy fall from nearly full to just 30 percent. Julie Aldaz of the Red Feather Lodge said Brewer is backing off her promise to help the park reopen and she now thinks the federal shutdown will end before Brewer comes through. Aldaz's hotel has lost about $150,000 during the 10-day shutdown.
  
"It's revenue that we're not going to get back," Aldaz said, adding that she's had to lay off some of her staff.

Arizona was the only state that reopened a national park after the 1995 shutdown, with then-Gov. Fife Symington negotiating a deal to open the road to the Grand Canyon with private and state money that was later reimbursed. The majority of the park remained closed, but tourists from around the world were able to get to the most popular scenic overlooks using 11 miles of roadway, walk the South Rim and visit the Grand Canyon Village.
  
That agreement serves as a framework for what the state is willing to do this time around, Wilder said. The 1995 cost was $17,625 per day, and Wilder said a partial reopening is expected to cost about $30,000 per day.
  
"A full reopening is desirable but that is probably only going to occur when President Obama and members of Congress reach a budget deal," he said.
  
Brewer spoke briefly with Interior Secretary Sally Jewell on Thursday and federal and state staffers were set to have more substantive discussions Friday, Wilder said.
  
Friday's talks came as five national parks in Utah began reopening because Gov. Gary Herbert wired $1.67 million to federal officials. They're all expected to be reopened by Saturday.
  
Associated Press writer Brian Skoloff in Tusayan contributed.