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Sen. Alexander proposes bill to relieve national parks of maintenance backlog

GATLINBURG, Tenn. (WATE) - Sen. Lamar Alexander introduced a bill to help address the National Park Service's $11.6 billion deferred maintenance needs, something that if passed would help reduce the Great Smoky Mountains National Park's $215 million backlog.

Alexander held a press conference Wednesday, where he introduced the National Park Restoration Act, a proposed bill that would help relieve the National Park Service of billions of dollars in maintenance backlog.

"We would never get the backlog taken care of. We’d always be bleeding from other parts of the park budget to take care of it," Sen. Alexander said at the press conference.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park spokesperson Dana Soehn said the money would finance projects that have been put on hold due to lack of funding.

"About 75 percent of our deferred maintenance needs, about $167 million worth, are on our roadway infrastructure," Soehn said. "That’s not surprising when you consider we have 384 miles of roadway, so certainly we would like to be making needed repairs to some of our most popular roads like Clingman’s Dome Road and it’s time to start repaving sections of Newfound Gap Road."

In addition to road maintenance, Soehn said the money would help address things like aging buildings, trail upkeep, and water system improvements.

"We have a lot of needs that visitors don’t always think about or see," she said. "We need about $7 million right now to help repair our infrastructure for wastewater systems and also our water treatment systems."

With 11.3 million people visiting the park last year and even more expected this year, the money would help the park service rebuild and restore the park for years to come.

"The national parks are treasures for all Americans, and so we’re excited that we may be able to receive some of these needed funds so that we can properly care for them and ensure that they continue to be preserved," Soehn said.

If the bill is signed into law, Alexander says it could potentially eliminate the entire park maintenance backlog over the next 10 years, including the deferred needs in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. 

The proposed bill is winning the support from lawmakers in East Tennessee, with both Congressman Jimmy Duncan and Congressman Phil Roe endorsing Alexander's legislation.

“I think this is a very good bill and is another example of why I believe Senator Alexander is one of the best legislators we have in Congress today,” Duncan said in a statement.

Roe echoed the support.

"The Great Smoky Mountains National Parks is one of America's great treasures, and has remained the most popular national park in the country," Congressman Roe said in a statement. "It is also a huge driver for the economy in East Tennessee. Providing a sustainable source of funding for our national parks is a game-changer for preserving these treasures for future generations. I have discussed this idea in the past with Secretary Zinke and applaud Senator Alexander for taking steps to address the current maintenance backlog."

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