Supporters of legislation to reimburse Tennessee and other states for reopening national parks, including Great Smoky Mountains National Park, during last fall’s shutdown of the federal government are seeing indications of coalescing support for the measure.

The office of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., released information Wednesday about what officials described as a commitment from U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell to support legislation, originally introduced by Alexander, at a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior.

“(U.S. Sen. Jeff) Flake has a bill to reimburse the states, which in our case were the counties, for the money they spent during the government shutdown,” Alexander said during the hearing. “My question is: Will you support that legislation as it moves through Congress to reimburse the state of Tennessee and the counties of Blount and Sevier for what they spent as a result of the federal government shutdown?”

“I did say at that time that I couldn’t obligate the federal treasury, and it had to be congressional action, so I’m supportive of the congressional action going forward,” Jewell said.

The National Park Access Act, which is cosponsored by Alexander, would repay six states that used about $2 million state and local dollars to reopen national parks. Tennessee paid $60,100 to reopen Great Smoky Mountains National Park. The shutdown ended when Congress enacted the Continuing Appropriations Act of 2014, which included retroactive funding for the National Park Service that covered park operations for days that had already been paid for by states.

Excess funds

As a result the National Park Service ended up with about $2 million in excess funds for the year which would be used to reimburse the states. The legislation builds on Alexander’s efforts to reimburse Tennessee for opening the Smokies last fall.

Blount County has already been refunded $24,040 of the $30,050 it contributed to reopening Great Smoky Mountains National Park the day before the October government shutdown ended.

The state paid 80 percent of the total cost of opening the Park in the form of a $240,400 tourism grant to Sevier County, with Sevier and Blount counties splitting the remaining $60,100. Only one day’s worth of funds were needed.

Officials have said that Blount County should get the remaining money back one way or another. Private donations have been offered to reimburse the county if no legislative fix occurs.

Great Smoky Mountains National Park costs $60,100 to operate per day, according to the National Park Service. The partners ended up paying for operations on Oct. 16, the last day of the government shutdown.

County Mayor Ed Mitchell helped spearhead the agreement. The Blount County Commission approved the expenditure at its Oct. 17 meeting.