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Our View: Garbage shows parks would benefit from private contractors

January 9, 2019

The federal government should provide services the public can’t easily handle on its own. Running the military and building highways comes to mind.

Garbage collection does not.

Yet garbage, particularly its uncollected heaps in national parks and other recreational lands owned by the federal government, may be both the largest and saddest symbol of the current government partial shutdown.

Many national parks have stayed open or partially open during the shutdown. Those facilities that remain open in the parks are largely run by concessionaires, volunteer organizations or even state or local government.

This means that many campgrounds remained open though the toilets were locked. Garbage piled up, forcing the federal government to threaten to close more of the parks.

There are other problems in the open parks, of course, since there’s little enforcement of park rules, but garbage is getting the blame. While area groups have stepped up in some cases, it seems silly that something like trash collection couldn’t be more efficiently handled.

More than a year ago, then-Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke proposed a sweeping privatization of national parks in an effort to address the billions of dollars in backlogged maintenance and repairs.

As of now, that proposal hasn’t gone too far. It was roundly criticized with many saying visitor costs would rise and visitor experiences would be diluted.

Whatever the truth in that statement, the current situation looks worse than the alternative.

Government shutdowns have become political weapons. They work. They will be used again.

Shouldn’t the public insist that popular functions of government — in this case the national parks — be made immune to those shutdowns? It would be good for the public and good for the parks.

Start with garbage collection concessions and go right up the list of operations until the parks can’t be held hostage by politics.

We’re not talking about naming rights and give-away-the-farm contracts that guarantee big money to concessionaires. We are talking about fees for services and management that also assure water pipes work and campgrounds are clean.

There’s no reason for national parks to face complete closure for lack of a trash crew.

— Today’s News-Herald

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