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Alexander Cosponsors Bill to Reimburse States for Cost of Reopening Nat’l Parks During 2013 Federal Shutdown

Press release from U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn.; January 12, 2015:

Says Legislation Would Reimburse $60,000 To Tennessee For Blount And Sevier Counties

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12, 2015 – U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) today cosponsored legislation with Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) to reimburse states that provided their own funds to keep the national parks within their state open during the federal government shutdown in October 2013, including the Great Smoky Mountains National Park in Tennessee.

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is one of America’s greatest treasures, which was forced to be shut down during its prime tourist season, a time when the park welcomes the most visitors and the surrounding businesses make most of their money,” Alexander said. “This legislation would help relieve the pain caused in these areas and their surrounding communities and ensure Tennessee taxpayers won’t have to pay the price for keeping them open.”

The National Park Access Act would reimburse the six states (Arizona, Colorado, New York, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah) that paid the National Park Service approximately $2 million of state and local money to keep the national parks in their states open during the federal government shutdown. Blount and Sevier Counties in Tennessee spent nearly $60,000 to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park.

During the government shutdown, Alexander introduced similar legislation, The Protecting States, Opening National Parks Act,to reimburse states within 90 days for all state funds used to reopen national parks while the federal government was shut down. He also worked with the National Park Service, Gov. Haslam, Blount and Sevier counties, and other members of the Tennessee delegation to reopen the national parks and ensure Tennessee and other states would be reimbursed for opening their national parks during the shutdown. The Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014, which ended the shutdown, included $2 million in retroactive funding for the National Park Service to cover the payments made by the states. Today’s legislation gives the National Park Service the congressional authority it needs to refund this money back to the states, including the $60,000 for the state of Tennessee and Blount and Sevier Counties.

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Agreement Reached to Open Great Smoky Mtn Nat’l Park

Press release from the Office of Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam; October 15, 2013:

NASHVILLE – Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam today announced an agreement to reopen the Great Smoky Mountains National Park (GSMNP) with all normal operations from Wednesday, October 16 through Sunday, October 20.

“The Great Smoky Mountains National Park is America’s most visited national park, and for the Smokies and the people around it, the month of October is the most important time of the year,” Haslam said. “I remain hopeful that an end to the federal government shutdown will come this week.”

The national park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service (NPS). Sevier County has sent $300,500 to NPS to open the park for five days.

The state is paying 80 percent of the cost in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County with Sevier and Blount counties funding the remaining $60,100 to fully fund operation of the park for five days.

An NPS report found that the 9.6 million visitors to GSMNP during 2012 had an economic impact of $818 million in communities surrounding the park in Tennessee and North Carolina.

Haslam has worked with North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, who has expressed a willingness to assist financially with the reopening.

“I appreciate the cooperation and support of Governor McCrory and the state of North Carolina,” Haslam said. “Together, we’ve been able to reopen the nation’s most-visited park during a key month for tourism in Tennessee.”

The park will open at 12 a.m. EDT on Wednesday, October 16 and stay open until 11:59 p.m. EDT on Sunday, October 20 if the shutdown is not ended in that time.

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Parole Officer Arrested for Theft of Court Ordered Fees, Fines Paid by Offenders

Press release from the Tennessee Department of Correction; January 17, 2013:

SEVIERVILLE – An extensive investigation by the Department of Correction’s Office of Investigations and Compliance has led to the arrest of a probation/parole officer on charges of theft. The investigation revealed Officer Joshua Keith DeBord misused funds paid by offenders under his supervision. The offenders thought they were paying court ordered fines and fees but DeBord kept the money for his personal use.

“These allegations are a serious violation of the public trust and the oath our officers take to uphold the law,” Commissioner Derrick Schofield said. “The vast majority of our officers take their sworn duty seriously, those who do not will be held accountable for their actions to include possible prosecution.”

DeBord has been charged with theft over $500. He was booked into the Sevier County Jail. He is on administrative leave pending termination.