Posted: Mar 7, 2013 8:13 PM by Angela Douglas - MTN News
BILLINGS - The recent announcement of delayed plowing and a late opening for Yellowstone National Park was unwelcome news for the park's gateway communities, where the local economy is based on tourism.
Between now and the end of September, Yellowstone National Park must eliminate nearly $2 million from its budget.
To deal with sequestration budget cuts, park officials decided to post-pone plowing the roads by two weeks.
It's a decision that will result in a significant delay in opening Yellowstone's five entrances.
That could mean as many as 135,000 park visitors will not be able to visit the park in those first couple weeks; a multi-million dollar impact on Montana and Wyoming communities.
Plowing costs Yellowstone roughly $30,000 a day. Park Supt. Dan Wenk says delaying the plowing until March 18 will save Yellowstone more than $250,000.
However, according to Wyoming Governor Matt Mead, it may be in the state's best interest to pitch in and help cover that cost in order to save tourism dollars.
"If you look at the amount of revenue lost by those communities it's significant compared to what the state may have to spend to plow those roads, but the problem is where does sequestration end?" said Gov. Mead. "How much if anything does the state step in and say we're going to offset these federal cuts, which were not well planned, with state dollars?"
One possible hang-up with the state's getting involved is how to handle damage equipment and who would be liable for any problems.
Response from Montana's capital city carried a different tune.
Kevin O'Brien, a spokesman for Montana Governor Steve Bullock released the following statement Thursday afternoon:
"The folks in Washington seem really good at coming up with ideas that create a crisis, but when it comes to finding solutions to problems, their ideas run out. Yellowstone Park has been trying to get out of maintaining the federal highway since 1982 - the same year their lawyers said it was the Park's responsibility. We'll continue to be in touch with Park management as they work through this problem, but we hope they find a solution that allows them to plow the highway in a timely fashion. Doing so would be good for tourists, good for Yellowstone and good for the communities surrounding and supporting it."
As for the Beartooth Highway, Montana Department of Transportation plows the road to the Montana/Wyoming state line, but after that the park service takes over the plowing due to the road crossing back and forth over state lines.
Clearing the pass can cost more than $300,000 on a heavy snow year.
The Beartooth Pass is expected to open on June 14.