The John Day City Council at its Jan. 9 meeting turned down a request by the Pew Charitable Trusts to pass a resolution encouraging Congress to address mounting deferred-maintenance costs in the National Parks System.
Pew’s Restore America’s Parks campaign provided the city with information about the growing maintenance backlog — about $11.3 billion nationwide, $105.5 million in Oregon and $1.5 million for the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument.
John Day City Manager Nick Green explained that he typically blocked such requests from reaching the council, but he decided to forward this request to the council because of the proximity of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument and the importance of tourism to the city.
Councilor Dave Holland noted that usually organizations seeking backing from the city ask for a letter and not a resolution showing support. Green said the trust provided the basic language for a resolution.
Councilor Gregg Haberly expressed his opposition right away.
“If it’s a national park, I don’t want anything to do with it,” he said.
He expressed concerns about the money being used for other purposes — particularly buying additional land. Green noted that Pew was clear about not using the money to buy additional land.
Councilor Shannon Adair had reservations about the request being very political and not the best use of the council’s decision-making efforts.
“We could each support this individually,” she said, adding that she had been “on the fence about this.”
Councilor Paul Smith noted that John Day saw a lot of traffic headed to the fossil beds, but Adair said she wasn’t sure it was a city issue.
“Maybe we should defer to the county,” he said.
Adair agreed that the maintenance backlog was an important issue, but approving the suggested resolution would mean the council also approved the specific dollar figures Pew cited, she said.
“It seems like they want local governments to do battle for their money,” Haberly said. “My problem is that they don’t have enough money to do maintenance, but they can buy additional land for national parks.”
None of the councilors spoke in favor of the resolution.
According to literature provided by the Pew Charitable Trusts, deferred maintenance in the National Park System resulted from aging infrastructure, record visitation causing wear and tear and unreliable funding for maintenance.