April 23, 2009

Mojave National Preserve slated for stimulus funds

By ABBY SEWELL, staff writer
Barstow Desert Dispatch

BARSTOW • About $7.2 million in federal stimulus funds will go to projects in the Mojave National Preserve.

The National Park Service announced its list of about 800 park infrastructure projects totaling $750 million to be funded by the stimulus package Wednesday. About $97.4 million will go to 97 projects in California.

The projects in the Mojave National Preserve include installing solar panels on the roof of a park office in Baker and solar electric-powered lights in the maintenance yard, restoring habitat, gating off and closing abandoned mines, maintenance on back country park roads and spraying dust suppressant on Kelso Dunes Road.

“In general, this recovery act is going to help with deferred maintenance projects, it’s going to help visitors, and it’s going to provide jobs for local economies,” said park service spokeswoman Holly Bundock.

Bob Bryson, chief of resource management at the Mojave National Preserve, said the stimulus funds will allow the park service to carry out projects that have been in the works for some time but have lacked funding.

There has been a push from the Department of the Interior’s inspector general and from others, including U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, to deal with the issue of abandoned mines in the parks, he said.

Bryson said the abandoned mines remain a popular tourist attraction and he was not aware of any deaths in mines in the Mojave preserve, but people have died in Death Valley and in other areas of the desert, including near Calico Ghost Town.

Bids must be awarded on the projects to be funded by the stimulus money by the end of September 2010, he said.

“It’s great we’re able to do things we wouldn’t be able to do (otherwise), but the problem is being able to do it relatively quickly, because after all, the idea is to be able to get the money out to the private sector and create jobs,” he said.

Bundock and Bryson did not have an estimate of how many jobs would be created by the projects in the Mojave. Bryson said most of the work would be contracted out to small businesses.

Officials in the park service’s Washington, D.C., headquarters looked at shovel-ready projects in the categories of construction, deferred maintenance, energy efficient equipment replacement, trail maintenance, abandoned mine closures and road maintenance, Bundock said.