Rep. Stewart earmarks $2m for Zion National Park’s electric shuttle

Using a controversial funding process called an earmark, Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT) is seeking more money from Congress for Zion National Park shuttles and other southern Utah projects.

An earmark is a project from the state’s legislator which is folded into an appropriations bill instead of introducing it on its own. 

Some legislators like Utah Sens. Mike Lee and Mitt Romney (R-UT) do not earmark, calling it “widely abused and wasteful spending practice” in an April statement.

It’s called “Community Project Funding,” and this year southern Utah’s representative is asking for the shuttle money, replacing the Green Steel Tank in Centerville, improving industrial roads in Cedar City, a new road and replacing water pipelines in Ephraim, and an expanded Frontrunner totaling to over $18.5 million.

ICYMI: Zion National Park receives $33 million for electric shuttle buses

In February, the U.S. Department of Transportation gave Zion $33 million to replace aging shuttles.

Stewart said he thinks this is the perfect time to ask Congress for the remaining funds.

“There have been efforts to fund the Zion National Park shuttle for years, and I’ve always been supportive of any initiative that generates more tourists and revenue for Kane and Garfield Counties,” Stewart said in a statement to The Spectrum.

The new fleet will consist of 26 battery-electric buses and 27 charging stations and will arrive at Zion within the next few years.

For three years, the park was denied funds with little to no explanation as to why.

“Thankfully, this year’s community project funds were the ideal opportunity to help them improve transportation for the east side of Zion National Park,” Stewart said.

The current buses are over 20 years old, and well over half all of park entrance fees go to maintaining the system, totaling over $5 million per year, according to the park’s charity, Zion Forever.

Related: Zion National Park’s shuttles are falling apart, but there is no funding to replace them. Why?

After an investigative series by The Spectrum on Zion’s shuttles, park officials said another application was in the works for this fiscal year.  This year, they got most of the money, with a small deficit.

Stewart has submitted letters for each of these projects stating it’s worth taxpayer money and he won’t financially benefit from the projects.

“Only a handful of each Member’s requests may be funded,” the House Appropriations Committee website says.

Now, 1% of domestic spending will fund these projects if chosen by the committee, a committee Stewart is on.

K. Sophie Will is the National Parks Reporter for The Spectrum & Daily News through the Report for America initiative by The GroundTruth Project. Follow her on Twitter at @ksophiewill or email her at [email protected] Donate to Report for America here.

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