Arizona State Parks Suffer From Financial Neglect

Source: Special by William Thornton to the Arizona Daily Star – November 10, 2018

A recent story in the Arizona Daily Star noted that Gov. Ducey has placed Arizona State Parks and Trails Director Sue Black on leave. There’s more to the story. Following the Arizona Republic’s Oct. 29 report that archaeological sites in state parks have been bulldozed to make way for cabins to generate additional revenue, four Native American state legislators requested a criminal investigation to determine whether state and federal laws were violated.

It’s been a wild roller coaster ride for state parks. In September 2017 Arizona State Parks and Trails was awarded the gold medal for the best managed system by the National Recreation and Parks Association. A remarkable turn round when, not so long ago, parks were closing for lack of funding and those remaining open were faced with millions of dollars of backlogged maintenance.

First a bit of history. In 1957, Gov. Ernest McFarland signed the bill that created the Arizona State Parks System, but legislators failed to appropriate funds to provide parks to serve the outdoor recreational needs of a rapidly growing urban population. In 1990, Arizona voters created the Heritage Fund that appropriated $20 million lottery dollars per year to be divided equally between State Parks and Arizona Game and Fish. The infusion of funds provided Arizona State Parks with “seed money” for new properties, to improve existing facilities and complete historical restorations. Every community in Arizona has benefited from Parks Heritage Fund grants at zero cost to taxpayers.

Even with new facilities and increased visitation, state parks suffered from chronic underfunding for operations and maintenance. General fund appropriations ended in 2010. In response to the economic downturn in 2011, the entire Parks Heritage Fund balance was swept into the state general fund and the Parks Heritage Fund was eliminated.

The State Parks Board was left with little choice but to close some of the least visited parks and historic sites. With help from legions of volunteers, host communities responded with heroic efforts to keep their parks open. The outpouring of support for parks was inspiring but not sustainable. A long-term solution was needed. Parks funding is not a problem unique to Arizona. Former Gov. Janet Napolitano appointed a commission to explore additional sources of revenue. The final report was released after Gov. Brewer took office. Possible funding solutions included a voluntary license plate surcharge that’s been successful in other states.

Despite bipartisan support, efforts to refer a bill to voters that would restore the Parks Heritage Fund and provide a dedicated source of parks funding stalled in the Arizona Legislature. An initiative drive failed in 2012. Finances improved when the Legislature allowed Arizona State Parks to keep more revenue from gate receipts, special events and gift shop sales. Visitation was on an upward trajectory when, in 2016, the parks department announced an ambitious program to build 100 new cabins in nine parks to be financed by a public/private partnership. Profits were to be shared by state parks and concessionaires. The question of whether Arizona Parks and Trails would share in any losses was left unanswered.

Fast forward to the present. The job of Parks Director comes with the awesome responsibility of managing natural and cultural resources for present and future generations. After decades of underfunding, it’s understandable that pressure to generate additional revenue was intense. That said, the infliction of irreparable damage to archaeological sites, even if inadvertent, cannot be excused or rationalized. Gov. Ducey has taken an important first step by placing Director Black on leave as the investigation proceeds.

Whether or not laws were broken, Arizona Parks and Trails and Director Black failed to meet her responsibilities and must be held accountable. Even so, the underlying issue of underfunding remains. Revenue generation has taken priority over stewardship of natural and cultural resources. Storm clouds over Arizona State Parks may have a silver lining if we follow up with restoration of the Parks Heritage Fund and a dedicated source of revenue for parks that belong to all Arizonans. The ball is in our court.

State Parks Bulldozed Archaeological Sites for Cabins, Trails, Ex-agency Archaeologist Says

Source: Craig Harris, Arizon Republic – October 29, 2018

Arizona State Parks & Trails has dug up and bulldozed Native American and other archaeological sites without preserving artifacts in a rush to build visitor attractions and make money, a state archaeologist claims. In one case, Parks unearthed ancient stone tools and caused “irreversible” damage to a site dating back 12,000 years, according to agency memos.

The archaeologist, Will Russell, told The Arizona Republic he repeatedly cautioned Parks officials that
the work could violate the law and destroy artifacts, but he was overruled and even threatened by top agency managers, including Parks Director Sue Black. “There are dozens of archaeological sites that have been wrecked” because Parks officials didn’t want to delay development plans, Russell told The Republic. Russell left his job with Parks on Oct. 15 and now works for another state agency.

A high-ranking administrator in Gov. Doug Ducey’s administration appeared to share Russell’s concerns in a July 25 email obtained by The Republic.  Interim Parks Deputy Director Bret Parke wrote about cultural resources “being impacted by development projects,” according to the email. Parke warned the agency in bold letters to not proceed “with any land disturbance without getting clearance” from Russell. Copied on Parke’s email were Black, a Department of Administration executive and Russell.

Russell said agency planners ignored that warning, and in mid-September Parke was moved from Parks to the Department of Environmental Quality, where he had previously worked. Megan Rose, spokeswoman for the Arizona Department of Administration, said ADOA is “actively reviewing the allegations brought forth by Dr. Russell,” and could not comment further. Multiple attempts to reach Parke were unsuccessful. A spokeswoman for DEQ declined to let Parke comment. Black, subject of three separate state investigations for mistreating employees, declined repeated requests for comment.

Russell said he took his concerns directly to Parke, the interim deputy director, who also was a lawyer at ADOA and has close ties to Gov. Doug Ducey and officials in the Governor’s Office. Russell called it curious that ADOA was only now investigating his claims — after officials became aware that he had talked to The Republic.  Parks spokeswoman Michelle Thompson declined to answer questions because Russell’s allegations are “under review.” Thompson did not elaborate. Paula Pflepsen, an archaeologist who was Park’s cultural resource manager until she quit in February 2017, said she had the same concerns about work at the agency.

‘Dozens’ of sites wrecked

Russell said disagreements over preservation grew so intense Black stormed into his office one day last
spring and yelled at him. She cocked her arm with a clenched fist, threatening to hit him, he said. Russell said as a result he was rarely permitted to leave the agency’s central office to conduct archaeological surveys or do damage assessments at the state’s 35 parks. He also wasn’t allowed to communicate with field staff or other governmental agencies, he said. “The agency’s mission is to protect and preserve natural and cultural resources, but we aren’t doing any of that. We are just putting up cabins and making money,” Russell said. “One of her favorite adages is ask for forgiveness rather than permission. But she doesn’t even ask for forgiveness, and she certainly never tries to go back and fix problems.”

Russell claims that under Black’s direction, the agency:

  • Built a garden in an archaeological site at Tonto Natural Bridge State Park, north of Payson, after being told to wait for an archaeological investigation. Russell noted in an April 14 memo to three Parks executives that the damage affected historic properties and “is irreversible, was not authorized, and was not monitored by a qualified archaeologist.” The memo also says work at the site exposed artifacts including “two lithic tools.” The site likely has “been visited or occupied over the span of 12 millenia or more,” and could have provided information about Apache subsistence and demography that has “thus far eluded Southwestern archaeologists,” he wrote.
  • Expanded a picnic area into a historical homestead site at Slide Rock State Park in Oak Creek Canyon, north of Sedona. In March 16 memo, Russell noted a historic roadway ended at a large area that had been bulldozed and unauthorized development work had been done, causing “land disturbance.” “This is a serious violation of several statutes, policies and acceptable practices,” Russell wrote. “If an ancestral Native American sited had been damaged, it would have added considerable liability.”
  • Built a trail in 2016 at Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park near Yarnell that went through a Native American archaeological site after being warned not to. Russell said when he tried to address the problem, Black rebuffed his efforts and removed him from his role as tribal liaison.
  • Refused to allow employees responsible for environmental or archaeological compliance to do their jobs.

Walter “Skip” Varney, the agency’s former chief of development, called Russell “very reputable” in his field. Varney, who left Parks in May, confirmed all of Russell’s allegations except those involving the Granite Mountain Hotshots Memorial State Park, saying in that case proper procedures were followed. Varney said Russell’s greatest concern “was to make sure we took care of archaeological sites and did it properly.” “She (Black) was frustrated with the archaeological process,” said Varney, who once served as Black’s deputy director. “She wanted to get projects on the ground, and she and Will went back and forth. … It was all about new development and squeezing in as many campsites and trailers.”

State law prohibits defacing sites

The Arizona Antiquities Act outlines how archaeological and paleontological discoveries on state land should be reported and handled. It prohibits defacing protected sites and artifacts. Russell said county attorneys, the state Attorney General and U.S. Attorney’s Office prosecute alleged violations of that law, depending on where the violations are alleged to have occurred.  Pflepsen said Parks, under Black, regularly violated the state Antiquities Act in order to generate additional development revenue. Parks would have to ask authorities for such an investigation.

Russell said he raised his concerns with the State Historic Preservation Office, which assists entities in complying with historic preservation laws. SHPO is also under Black’s jurisdiction. State Historic Preservation Officer Kathryn Leonard said she was unable to comment without Black’s authorization. The agency did not allow Leonard to speak to The Republic. Russell also made his complaints known to various tribes and federal agencies during his roughly one year on the job.

‘What is your true intention?’

The most heated exchange between Russell and Black arose from his questions about Parks land near Lake Havasu, slated for development as the Havasu Riviera resort.  Russell said the land was bulldozed without proper archaeological compliance.

When Russell posed questions about the site in a March 29 memo to state and federal agencies and several Native American tribes, he said Black stormed into his office and screamed at him.  “She said ‘How dare you do this? This is a $300 million project, and you could have derailed the whole thing,'” Russell said. “Then she leaned over me with a clenched fist and said, ‘What is your true intention?'”

Russell said Deputy Director Jim Keegan the next day forced him to sign an apology letter to those agencies and tribes and retract his concerns. The terse, four-paragraphletter, which Russell said he did not write, states he had not “exhausted all of my internal resources in researching the background on the project” and that he didn’t follow proper protocol. The statement, on Parks letterhead, refers questions to Keegan, a longtime friend of Black’s who has a felony criminal record.

The style of writing in the apology letter differs greatly from the technical writings of Russell in hundreds of other documents he provided to The Republic. Russell said Keegan wouldn’t let him leave the building to pick up his children until he signed the letter, and he was afraid Black would fire him. Russell said he signed it after insisting that some of the grammar be corrected.  In retrospect, Russell said he’s embarrassed he signed the letter. “I never should have allowed that to happen,” he said. Keegan, when reached Thursday on his personal cellphone, referred questions to Thompson, the agency spokeswoman. She declined to comment.

Rapid turnover continues at Parks

Russell became the 36th full-time employee to leave the agency this year. The agency has 179 employees; 118 have quit or been fired since Ducey appointed Black in February 2015, according to public records obtained by The Republic. After The Republic requested comment regarding Russell’s claims the Governor’s Office said in a statement Wednesday that the allegations are “under review.”

“This administration cares deeply about protecting and preserving Arizona’s history and we expect our agencies to conduct their operations accordingly. We’ve also placed priority on forging strong relationships with Arizona tribes and the Native American community at all levels of state government,” said Daniel Ruiz, a spokesman for Ducey. Black has during her tenure faced numerous allegations of inappropriate and disrespectful behavior, including berating employees in front of other staff, disclosing confidential information, using racial slurs, getting drunk and belligerent while representing the agency at conferences, and trying to circumvent the state procurement code.

The allegations have led to three investigations, but Black has faced no discipline other than to have one of Ducey’s top administrators counsel her on how to treat employees.  Russell, 46, is the first former employee to publicly accuse Black of ignoring state and federal laws to boost revenue at Parks and has released documents to support his claims. He provided The Republic with hundreds of records, including some that were redacted. He said some of the issues arose before he started working at Parks in June 2017.

‘She doesn’t think compliance laws apply to her’

Despite a stream of controversies at Parks, Duceyhas continued to stand behind Black, praising her efforts to raise revenue at the agency and citing her winning a national award even as she has faced investigations of allegations that she has mistreating staff.  Ducey gave her a raise of more than 9 percent in November 2016, bringing her annual pay to $175,000. Black’s predecessor was paid $136,000 annually. The agency has distributed several photos of a smiling Ducey with Black, who is holding the award recognizing the nation’s best-run state parks program.  Ducey’s campaign spokesman, Daniel Scarpinato, declined to answer questions about the latest allegations against Black.

After leaving Parks this month, Russell, who studied anthropology at Arizona State University, where he earned his Ph.D. in 2016, was hired to do similar work for the state Department of Transportation. “All Sue Black cares about is her image and making money,” Russell said. “She doesn’t think compliance laws apply to her. She doesn’t think she needs permits to excavate or to do (archaeological) surveys. And she sees no point in collaborating with tribes.” Russell also questioned why Ducey keeps Black in her job in the face of yet another investigation into her treatment of staff. He said Black continually berated employees, including him. “She calls herself the Teflon director. She think she’s above the law. And thus far, she’s right,” he said. “Nothing sticks on her. The hubris is unreal.”

Reach the reporter at craig.harris@arizonarepublic.com or 602-444-8478 or on Twitter @charrisazrep.

Land and Water Conservation Fund Lauded for benefiting recreation, criticized for land acquisition

Source:  ASU Now by Mary Beth Faller, September 2018

The patio of the clubhouse at Encanto Park in Phoenix was an oasis of shade on a hot, sunny day earlier this week. There, Arizona State University Professor Dale Larsen described how a federal funding program has given millions of dollars to the city to create hiking trails, playgrounds, picnic areas — and shady spots.

That 54-year-old program, the Land and Water Conservation Fund, is set to expire Sept. 30. Over five decades, Arizona has received more than $230 million from the fund, which it has passed on to municipalities for projects including South Mountain Park and Goodyear Community Park, to state parks including Lost Dutchman and Slide Rock, and even to the Arizona Board of Regents for a park at the ASU West Campus.

The fund gave a total of $100 million to all 50 states this year, including $2.1 million to Arizona.

Video by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

The money does not come from taxpayers, but from fees paid by energy companies that extract oil and natural gas along the Gulf Coast, according to Larsen, a professor of practice in the School of Community and Development. He was assistant director and then director of Phoenix’s Parks and Recreation Department for 27 years, retiring in 2010.

“That bipartisan legislation was an innovative way to share those funds all over the country in parks, conservation areas and wildlife areas as sort of an environment tradeoff,” he said.The fund divides the revenue into federal and state portions according to a formula that changes frequently, but for many years it was 60 percent federal and 40 percent state.

“Phoenix and other municipalities benefit from the state side,” he said. “The rest would go to federal agencies for purposes primarily of acquiring and expanding their federal property footprint, primarily in Western states. So the rub, over the years, has been from Western state legislators who think the LWCF has been used as a land grab for federal properties to be expanded, which would then preclude the opportunity for mining, for grazing or for hunting and fishing.”

The National Park Service, Forest Service, Fish and Wildlife Service, and Bureau of Land Management use the fund to acquire more land. The conservative Heritage Foundation supports allowing the fund to expire, not only because the organization opposes expansion of federal lands but also because federal money is going to support local projects that should be funded in other ways.

U.S. Rep. Rob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, blocked reauthorization of the LWCF in 2015 because he believed too much of the money went to buy land in the West. However, this year, Bishop co-sponsored the Restore Our Parks and Public Lands Act, with Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., to permanently restore the fund and also allocate money toward the $12 billion maintenance backlog at the National Parks Service.

Larsen said that the program has been frozen and temporarily extended a few times, but never been allowed to expire. The city of Phoenix has received more than $10 million from the Land and Water Conservation Fund since it began. Larsen teaches a class at ASU called “creating community,” and he tells his students that parks not only provide recreational and environmental benefits but they also have an economic impact.

“Parks, if they’re managed properly, tend to increase the property values of the neighborhood they’re located in,” he said. But a poorly maintained park, with trash and graffiti, can lower property values. “In Phoenix, what is the most treasured commodity? Shade,” he said.“The LWCF provides shade development opportunities so people can enjoy those parks.”

Baby boomers retire here for the hiking, yet Arizona starves its parks. How smart is that?

Source:  Opinion by Linda Valdez – Arizona Republic – azcentral.com – September 17, 2018

Opinion: Arizona’s environment is an asset. Yet we are starving the state parks that provide exactly
what baby boomers say they want from us.  Arizona’s has a fast horse in the race to attract Baby Boomer retirees. But our state is starving the poor beast. Recent census figures put Arizona second only to Florida as a destination for today’s retirees, according to reporting by The Republic’s Catherine Reagor. And what is at the top of the list of what these retirees want? — Hiking. It’s the great outdoors that Baby Boomer retirees crave, and we’ve got plenty of it. But we aren’t taking care of it.

Consider:

  • The total operating budget for Arizona’s State Parks was $29 million in fiscal 2018, according to the Joint Legislative Budget Committee. This is $15 million less than what Arizona State University’s Morrison Institute said was needed in 2009 to operate and maintain the state’s parks.
  • Since 2009, state parks have gotten no general fund money.
  • The parks don’t get to use all of the money they bring in through gate receipts and concessions. That money goes into the State Parks Revenue Fund, which reported total revenue of $20,460,700 in fiscal 2018. Only $14.4 million of it was appropriated back to the parks.
  • More than a decade ago – in 2007 – the parks had fewer visitors and more money. The fiscal 2007 parks budget was $37 million, and that included $27 million from the general fund.
  • During the recession, Arizona’s GOP-controlled Legislature stripped away $10 million a year in Heritage Fund money that had been dedicated to the parks by a 1990 citizens’  initiative. This funding, which came from the Lottery, has not been restored.
  • In 2014, then-Parks Director Bryan Martyn put a $80 million price tag on the cost of needed capital improvements in the parks – no-frills things like water lines and septic tanks.
  • Gov. Doug Ducey’s Parks Director Sue Black has faced criticism and investigations over her treatment of staff, according to reporting by The Republic’s Craig Harris. Concerns about her leadership remain but have not been resolved.

Open spaces mean economic growth

This isn’t just about the spiritual, emotional and psychological benefits nature provides to those who take the time to get out into the wide open spaces. This is about cold, hard cash. It’s about planning for an economically sustainable future. Arizona’s environment is an asset. It attracts people. That’s increasingly true as the large cohort of Baby Boomers look for retirement options that include outdoor experiences. Our State Parks include first-class natural, archaeological and historical sites. The parks need to be properly maintained to conserve the resource and give visitors a first-class experience.

It’s a National Parks problem, too

Arizona’s parks – along with Arizona’s wealth of National Parks and other federal lands – give us an edge in attracting Baby Boomer retirees who have money to spend on an outdoor lifestyle. And guess what? There’s a problem at the national level, too. The Restore Our National Parks and Public Lands Act of 2018 aims to begin spending on deferred maintenance on federal public lands. The price tag in Arizona alone is $531 million, including $330 million in needed maintenance at Grand Canyon National Park. Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva and Kyrsten Sinema are original sponsors. Other Arizona House members signed on are Democratic Reps. Tom O’Halleran and Ruben Gallego, as well as Republicans Andy Biggs and Debbie Lesko. The bill is not moving.

Arizona’s missed opportunity

Meanwhile, back in Arizona, Ducey and his Republican colleagues in our Legislature like to talk about their commitment to economic development. But they lack awareness of how to market and maintain Arizona’s natural assets. They are systematically starving the horse that can help us win the national competition for retirees who want exactly what our state parks offer.