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Senate OKs bill to allow local gov'ts, businesses state parks

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Arizona State Parks

Senate OKs bill to allow local gov'ts, businesses state parks

The state Senate approved a bill Wednesday that would allow local governments, private companies and American Indian tribes to temporarily take over operations and management of state parks.

"In order to remain economically viable, cities need their parks to remain open, and these partnerships will allow that," said Sen. Barbara Leff, R-Paradise Valley, sponsor of SB 1349.

In response to budget cuts, Arizona State Parks Board plans to close 13 state parks while keeping nine open. Leff's bill would allow parks to remain open if the state enters into partnerships with outside groups to run them.

Leff's bill, which heads to the House, won unanimous approval. The measure contains an emergency clause, requiring a two-thirds majority, that would allow it to take effect immediately upon the governor's signature.

Any partnerships would expire June 30, 2011.

SB 1349 is one of three bills addressing the short- and long-term future of Arizona State Parks.

HCR 2040, authored by Rep. Russell L. Jones, R-Yuma, would have voters decide whether to add $12 to annual vehicle registration fees, with most of that money going to operate, maintain and make capital improvements to state parks. That bill has won committee approval and was headed for the House Appropriations Committee.

HB 2786, sponsored by Rep. Doris Goodale, R-Kingman, would require Arizona State Parks to enter into a 25-year lease agreement allowing Lake Havasu City to operate Lake Havasu State Park. That bill won committee approval, but Jay Ziemann, assistant director for Arizona State Parks, said he has heard the measure isn't going further.

Ziemann called the vehicle registration fee the future of Arizona State Parks and said Leff's measure would give the agency time to get back on its feet.

"Parks were established in public trust and they need to continue operating," he said. "This will not solve the problem, but it will provide us with a tool to help keep some of these places open to the public."

Ziemann said Arizona State Parks has agreements or is negotiating agreements with outside entities to temporarily operate and maintain several parks, including those in Yuma, Payson and Camp Verde.

Warren Meyer, owner of Recreation Resource Management, a company that operates 175 recreational sites in 11 states, told the Senate Committee on Natural Resources, Infrastructure and Public Debt that his firm would be willing to take over running six of the 13 parks slated for closure.

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