Federal maintenance, jobs bill outlined

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Alexandria, details the proposed ‘Restore Our Parks Act’ during a June 9 speech on the Senate floor. (Contributed photo)

By Brandon Martin

The economic impact of the Great American Outdoors Act was outlined by U.S. Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., during a June 18 media call.

The act that would address a $12 billion maintenance backlog in national parks and create jobs passed the Senate last week with more than 70 votes, according to Warner.

Warner added that he hopes President Donald Trump will sign the bill on July 4

Warner said the Blue Ridge Parkway has $433 million in maintenance backlog which equates to about $1 million a mile.

He noted that overall, Virginia has the third largest amount of deferred maintenance. To address these shortfalls, he said the bill would create an estimated 10,340 jobs in the Commonwealth alone.

“It’s a real win for those who value and enjoy the outdoors, those who want to preserve our history and heritage, and it’s also a jobs bill,” Warner said.

He added that the vast majority of the jobs will be construction jobs to assist with upgrades to “bridges, potholes and to getting our welcome centers up to par,” but other jobs in the tourism sector would also be added.

Representatives from the Pew Charitable Trusts, the National Parks Conservation Association, the Wolf Trap Foundation, and Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge also joined the call to discuss the $1.1 billion in deferred maintenance at Virginia’s national parks.

Landon Howard, president of Visit Virginia’s Blue Ridge, said the Blue Ridge Parkway is the number one tourist attraction for the area. “It’s the cornerstone to tourism for us and has been a real economic development driver.”

Howard said “people notice when some of these smaller things aren’t updated.” He added that he “couldn’t describe” how he felt following the bill’s passage in the Senate.

“We have literally loved our parks almost to death,” Howard said. “People are discovering the outdoors like never before and addressing the maintenance is incredibly important” to keeping them coming back.

In addition to work at national parks, the act will also fully fund the $900 million Land and Water Conservation Fund each year and put $9.5 billion, over the next five years, toward backlogged public lands maintenance.

Arvind Manocha, president of Wolf Trap Foundation, discussed implications of the act for nonprofit groups that “have dedicated their lives to the cause. By preserving our national parks, we are stewards of the fabric of American culture and history.”

Wolf Trap Foundation for the Performing Arts is the official partner to the National Park Service in providing concert and performance programming within the park. They are dedicated to creating excellent performing arts experiences for the enrichment, education, and enjoyment of diverse audiences.

Kristen Brengel, of the National Parks Conservation Association, said the group has been fighting for funding alongside Warner through the “tough times and through the great times.”

She said she remembers the initial iteration of the bill that began in 2017, and gathering all of the co-sponsors to make it happen.

“We will be putting in the same amount of effort on the House side as well, if not more,” Brengel said.

Warner said he doubted he would have the same support from as many legislators without the Land and Water Conservation Fund being added. He also added that without the help of some of the organizations participating in the call, the bill would likely not have passed.

Even though the bill had bi-partisan support, Warner said that he was worried about the vote coming back up after the Senate broke due to the coronavirus. He said he appreciated Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., for quickly bringing the bill up for a vote.

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