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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Vice President Pence Visits Yellowstone To Highlight Repair Backlog

Vice President Mike Pence
Courtesy White House

Vice President Mike Pence visited Yellowstone National Park on Thursday to promote a plan to whittle away the more than $12 billion repair-and-maintenance backlog in national parks across the U.S.

Pence donned work gloves and helped haul and nail lumber with a work crew repairing a boardwalk near Old Faithful, the first national park's most famous geyser, the Billings Gazette reported.

During remarks to employees in an appearance with Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, the vice president spoke about the need for a Trump administration proposal to commit half of all leasing royalties on federal land to the backlog of repairs needed for park roads, trails and buildings.

The measure to use money from onshore and offshore energy leases is in the Interior Department's budget request after similar legislation failed to pass Congress last year.

"We're getting broad bipartisan support for it, and we're going to continue to carry that message back to DC," Pence said.

As he spoke, the geyser erupted behind him.

"Right on cue," he added.

The national park repair backlog has been above $11 billion for several years, and it now tops $12 billion across the more than 400 locations, according to Interior Department officials. That includes nearly 28,000 visitor centers, restrooms, housing units and other buildings, along with parking lots, water systems, wastewater systems, electrical systems, and tens of thousands of miles of roads and trails.

About $500 million of that backlog is for maintenance and repairs at Yellowstone, which sees an estimated 4 million visitors a year. It's not clear how much of the recent increase is because of the 35-day partial government shutdown earlier this year, when there were reports of visitors strewing trash and human waste, creating new trails, and damaging property and flora when the parks were unstaffed.

At the time, conservationists warned that recovering from the damage to sensitive lands could take decades.

Pence stopped in Yellowstone on the final day of his two-day trip west. On Wednesday, he raised money in Montana for Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines' re-election campaign.

He also focused on the state's methamphetamine problem, speaking with treatment providers, law enforcement, tribal officials and recovering addicts in Billings. Daines, a first-term senator, is running for re-election next year. Helena Mayor Wilmot Collins is the first Democrat to announce a challenge.

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