June 18, 2002 The Voice of the Times calls closing of state parks a capricious snit

Posted: Monday, June 24, 2002

The quick decision by the Department of Natural Resources to shutter a number of state parks smacks of little more than a political pout -- and a costly one at that.

Commissioner Pat Pourchot did the deed almost immediately after the Legislature trimmed about $200,000 from his budget -- for next year, not this year, when funds certainly were still available to have the parks open for the public to use as summer begins.

To make matters worse, he ordered signs erected at the park entrances blaming the closures on the Legislature, headed by Republicans in both the House and the Senate. Then he spent an ungodly amount of money putting heavy barricades in place to block vehicles from entering the park grounds.

Residents at Rocky Lake, one of the little vest-pocket parks in the Mat-Su valley that were sealed off by this ill-conceived order, said it must have cost more to build Mr. Pourchot's iron barriers than would have been spent picking up the garbage from the park on a weekly basis -- which is just about all the state ever does there, anyway.

This is silliness of the first order.

It's an affront to the public and surely a violation of the commissioner's trust to be a custodian and promoter of park use for all the people.

It speaks, rather, to his inability to effectively and responsibly manage his department that he could not find somewhere in the bureaucracy places that the budget could be trimmed to meet the legislative mandate.

The Legislature, acting within its full and complete authority, decided to give the department fewer dollars than it wanted to have. It did not direct the department to shut down parks. A commissioner worthy of his salt would have accepted that and worked to more efficiently manage his business. Mr. Pourchot just grabbed the first and most obvious political brickbat he could find, in hopes of embarrassing GOP members of the Legislature.

He embarrassed himself instead.

Folks who live in the valley -- not to mention those who live in Anchorage and who use the parks -- are irate, and justly so. Last week, in a small rally protesting the closure of nine parks in the Mat-Su, legislators from the area and some members of the public called on Gov. Tony Knowles to countermand the order of his commissioner and to direct that the parks be reopened.

Sen. Lyda Green, R-Mat-Su, a member of the Senate Finance Committee, was blunt about the whole affair.

''These parks have been closed because the administration chose to close these parks. Money was appropriated to provide adequate funding for all state parks.''

Pat Pourchot needs to be spanked -- or fired.

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