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Marketplace Tech

The National Park Service’s $11.5 billion repair bill

Tim Fitzsimons Apr 3, 2015
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Washington, D.C.’s famed cherry blossoms are beginning to bloom, and with them they will bring 1.5 million tourists to the narrow path around the Tidal Basin, beside the Jefferson Memorial.

But the National Park Service, which administers the Jefferson Memorial and Tidal Basin as part of its National Mall and Memorial Parks (NMMP) zone, has $11.5 billion on its backlog of deferred maintenance costs. Of that figure, $850 million is slated for the NMMP. So while the Jefferson Memorial may look good from afar, when you get closer you can see that it’s falling apart.

“If you look up you can see the portion of the ceiling of the portico has fallen,” said Sean Kenneally, acting deputy superintendent for the National Mall & Memorial Parks. “Fortunately, no one was injured.”

But somebody might have been —a heavy piece of marble falling 50 feet onto a tourist would have generated headlines, and the system is still waiting on a replacement roof. Water, leaking through the 20+ year old roof, runs through the spaces in the monument’s marble, dissolving grout and leaving ugly black stains on the ceiling.

There are plenty of other blackened spots that look like the spot where the marble fell. Until money is appropriated for a new roof however, there’s just a fence and a plan to install a net.

The Lincoln Memorial also needs a new roof, but it’s harder to see the damage—only one of the Alabama marble ceiling panels is missing (There’s a piece of plywood instead). Otherwise, Honest Abe’s house looks pretty good.

Sean Gormley of Rye Neck, N.Y., was visiting Washington and suggested that philanthropic money be used to meet part of the $11.5 billion repair bill. “We already pay enough taxes here, whether it be our federal taxes, real estate taxes, et cetera,” Gormley said. “Things get built up, moths and rust do decay; I tell ya, it’ll crumble one day.”

Craig Obey, the senior vice president of the National Parks Conservation Association, said that the federal neglect of the National Park Service’s funding is a bipartisan problem that has grown more severe in the past 30 years.

“I think the parks have been dealing with less for quite a while, they’ve been asked to do more with less and we are at the point where they’re able to do less with less,” Obey said.

And indeed, the “less” is lessening, Obey said, “because the Park Service gets about between $200 and $300 million less than they need each year just to keep it even, not even to begin reducing it.”

Obey said National Parks aren’t just rock formations that sit in the desert. Most of them are east of the Mississippi and historic, not natural. People go on vacations, drive cars, flush toilets, ask for directions, climb stairs. While it is true that all this takes a toll on the infrastructure of our parks, they also generate economic activity: about $37 billion each and every year.

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