Posts tagged ‘National Park’

Should I Resort to Civil Disobedience And Re-Open Our Privately-Funded Parks?

I have gotten a lot of mail with moral support from readers as we try to deal with the fact that the White House has ordered privately-funded parks in the National Forest to close, flying in the face of all precedent and budget logic.

Many, many emails have encouraged me to disobey the order and keep the parks open for the public.  There are three reasons why I have chosen not to do so.

1.  Respect for Contract:  In my 25 or so lease contracts with the US Forest Service (the USFS insists on calling them "special use permits" but legally they are essentially commercial leases), the contract language gives the Forest Supervisor of each Forest the right to suspend or terminate the contract for virtually any reason.  Yeah, I know, this is a crappy lop-sided contract provision, but welcome to the world of working with the Federal government.  So each Forest Supervisor has the right to suspend our lease.  BUT....

The real question here is whether they have proper justification for doing so, or whether their suspension is arbitrary.  In another post I discuss why this action is arbitrary and unjustified:

Historically, the USFS has only rarely used this contract power, and its use has generally been in one of two situations:  a) an emergency, such as a forest fire, that threatens a particular recreation area or b) a situation where the recreation area cannot physically be used, such as when it has been destroyed by fire or when it is being refurbished.  Never, to my knowledge, has the USFS used this power to simultaneously close all concession operations, and in fact in past shutdowns like 1995 and 1996 most all concessionaires stayed open.

Budget considerations alone cannot justify the closure order, as USFS concessionaires do not use Federal funds and in fact pay money to the Treasury.  Closing us actually reduces the income to the Treasury as we pay our concession fees as a percentage of revenues.  Further, the USFS does not have any day-to-day administration responsibilities for these parks.  The only semi-regular duty is sometimes to provide law enforcement backup, but USFS law enforcement officers are still at work (we know this because they showed up to post our operations as closed).

The Administrative Procedure Act makes it illegal for a government agency to make a decision that is arbitrary, capricious or an abuse of discretion.  To this end, the USFS has not actually closed the Forests and still allows camping in the Forests.  Thus, the USFS considers it safe for people to be camping in the Forests and that doing so during the shutdown creates no risk of resource or property damage.  In contrast, the USFS has made the decision that it is not safe to allow camping in developed campsites run by private concessionaires.  The decision that developed campgrounds run by private companies must close, but undeveloped camping can continue, makes no sense and is arbitrary, capricious and an abuse of discretion.  If anything, closing developed areas but allowing dispersed camping increases risks to public safety and for resource damage as developed concession areas are staffed and trained to mitigate such risks (that's the whole point of having developed recreation in the first place).

While we feel good we have a winning argument, this is a complicated point that does not lend itself well to civil disobedience, but we are taking it to court and seeking an injunction to the closure.

2.  The wrong people would go to jail.  Civil disobedience has a long and honorable history in this country.  But the honor of such an act would quickly go out the window if I were to commit an act of defiance but others would have to go to jail.  We run over a hundred sites.  Telling my people to remain open would simply lead to getting my employees thrown in jail for trusting me and following my instructions.  That would be awful.  Just as bad, we can see from examples in the National Park Service that such disobedience would potentially subject my customers to legal harassment.  It's not brave or honorable for me to be defiant but to have others pay the cost.

3.  I could lose everything.  I don't want to seem weak-kneed here, but I would be dishonest not to also raise the small but critical point that I have almost every dollar I own tied up in this company, which does over half its business in the National Forest**.  My retirement and all my savings are in this one basket.   I would likely risk an arrest and a few hours in jail plus the price of bail and months of court appearances to make a point here.  I am not ready to go all-in with everything I own, not when there are other legal avenues still available.  If that makes me a wimp, so be it.

 

** you can be assured that the moment I have one minute of extra time we are going to be working on diversifying away from the US Forest Service as much as possible.

More Shutdown Theater

From the Washington Examiner.  Because tenants have to be evicted when their landlord goes on paid vacation.

National Park Service officials cited the government shutdown as the reason for ordering an elderly Nevada couple out of their home, which sits on federal land.

"Unfortunately overnight stays are not permitted until a budget is passed and the park can reopen," an NPS spokesman explained to KTNV.

Ralph and Joyce Spencer, aged 80 and 77, respectively, own their home, but the government owns the land on which it sits.

"I had to be sure and get his walker and his scooter that he has to go in," Joyce Spencer told the local news outlet. "We're not hurt in any way except it might cost me if I have to go buy more pants."

Of course, I am in the exact same position

Government Closing Parks It Does Not Fund or Operate

I mentioned in an earlier article that the Administration is threatening to close US Forest Service parks it does not even fund or run, privately operated parks that happen to have the Federal government as a landlord.  In fact, in our case, we pay the US Forest Service between 8 and 22 percent of revenues as a concession fee, so by threatening to close us it is costing them, not saving them extra money.

Apparently, the NPS is already doing this:

National Park Officials closed down the educational Claude Moore Colonial Farm near the CIA in McLean, Va., even though the federal government doesn't fund or staff the park popular with children and schools. Just because the privately-operated park is on Park Service land, making the federal government simply its landlord, the agency decided to close it.

A Claude Moore Colonial Farm official said that the privately-funded staff is on the job Wednesday, but barred from letting anybody visit the historically accurate buildings or animals. Anna Eberly, the managing director, sent out an email decrying the decision and rude National Park Service staff handling the closure.

Pointing to Park Service claims that parks have to be closed because the agency can’t afford staff during the government closure, Eberly wrote: “What utter crap. We have operated the Farm successfully for 32 years after the NPS cut the Farm from its budget in 1980 and are fully staffed and prepared to open today. But there are barricades at the Pavilions and entrance to the Farm. And if you were to park on the grass and visit on your own, you run the risk of being arrested. Of course, that will cost the NPS staff salaries to police the Farm against intruders while leaving it open will cost them nothing.”

She added: “In all the years I have worked with the National Park Service, first as a volunteer for six years in Richmond where I grew up, then as an NPS employee at the for eight very long years and now enjoyably as managing director for the last 32 years — I have never worked with a more arrogant, arbitrary and vindictive group representing the NPS. I deeply apologize that we have to disappoint you today by being closed but know that we are working while the National Park Service is not — as usual.”

This is purely political -- it costs rather than saves the government money.

Seriously, Media Cannot Find Cost to Closure Beyond Parks

I wrote earlier that the only downside the AP could find with the looming shutdown were National Park closures.  I am not exaggerating.  It is the only thing they have.  Here is the CNN site about 45 minutes before midnight.  I added the red arrow

cnn-screen

 

As I wrote earlier, the only other function the 800,000 to-be-furloughed government employees seem to have is drawing a paycheck. Clicking on the article above the parks article entitled "multibillion$$ hit", we find absolutely no hint that these employees do anything of economic value or that their lost work will hurt the economy.   The only thing that they apparently usefully do is spend tax money

A government shutdown could cost the still-struggling U.S. economy roughly $1 billion a week in pay lost by furloughed federal workers. And that's only the tip of the iceberg....

The total economic impact is likely to be at least 10 times greater than the simple calculation of wages lost by federal workers, said Brian Kessler, economist with Moody's Analytics. His firm estimates that a three to four week shutdown will cost the economy about $55 billion.

Really?  There is a 10x Keynesian multiplier on these people's paychecks?   I would sure love to see what kinds of stuff they spend money on because I have never heard of a number that absurdly high.

What else can they think of to worry about beyond these lost paychecks?  Only one other specific is mentioned in the article.  Get ready for it -- the national parks will close!

Many federal contractors will also have to cut back on staffing if they don't get the business they normally do from the government. There's also a large variety of businesses that depend on the government to conduct their normal operations -- tourism businessesthat depend on national parks staying open, for example.

So there you have it.  The government shutdown does two things:  It closes the national parks and lays off 800,000 people who apparently do no valuable work (other than keep parks open!) but who have the highest Keynesian multipliers on their spending of any individuals in the nation.

Resort with Spectacular Views

I don't like to recommend destinations that are really expensive (why get people excited about a place they can't afford to visit) but we splurged this weekend on the Enchantment Resort in Sedona, Arizona.  It is the most spectacular location I have ever seen for a landlocked (ie non ocean-front) resort.  It is almost impossible to do it justice in photos, because it sits at the end of a box canyon and is surrounded on three sides by red rock walls.    Some pictures are here in the google image result.  Expect to pay $300-400 and up for a night, though you will get a very nice room even for the lower rates, and large casitas for higher rates.  As is usual for resorts, meals are crazy expensive -- its hard to get through breakfast, for example, for less than $20 a person.  But the views and hiking and everything else here are just beautiful.

One of the things I enjoyed was the resort had a native american climb onto a local rock outcropping a couple of times a day and play peaceful flute music that echoed around the resort.  You can see a group gathered around to watch (update:  A reader was nice enough to Photoshop out some of the haze using a levels command trick he taught me a while back -- you can compare below to this original)

enchantment1 copy

It freaked me out for a while because I would here this low-volume music as I walked around the resort and I could not figure out where it was coming from (I kept looking for hidden speakers until I figured it out).

As an added bonus, the night sky is totally dark -- you are out in the wilderness about 15 miles from Sedona and out of site of any other habitation of any sort and almost completely surrounded by canyon walls.  As a result, it is one of the few places where us city folk can see the Milky Way in all its glory (below is my amateur photography (you may have to click to enlarge to really see the Milky Way, but its there).

click to enlarge

 

The restaurant there is quite good and there are excellent tables on the deck outside to watch the sunset.  But if you want a slightly different Sedona experience (though equally expensive) the Restaurant at the L'Auberge resort right in the town of Sedona on Oak Creek is terrific.  The food is great and the location on the creek is very romantic at night.  Here is the view from my table right around sunset.

laub

You can't get closer to the water than that!

Postscript:  If you like the idea of creekside dining but don't want to blow a hundred bucks a person for dinner, I have eaten at a much less expensive, much less highbrow restaurant that had a very similar location.  It is the Rapids Lodge Restaurant at Grand Lake, Colorado, and is a great place to eat on a trip through Rocky Mountain National Park before you turn around and head back to Estes Park.  Here is the view from our table there:

click to enlarge

 

PPS:  Other US resort views I like:  Highlands Inn, near Carmel;  Hapuna Resort, Big Island, Hawaii;  Sanctuary Resort, Phoenix, AZ (though the rooms really need an update);  Trump Hotel, Las Vegas (located right on the bend of the strip so the strip view rooms look straight down the strip at night).

Update:  In the spirit of equal time, a reader writes that the Enchantment Resort ruined Boynton Canyon.  Its impossible for me to say -- I never knew it in its pristine state.  I will say the resort itself does a pretty good job of keeping a low profile in the canyon -- no buildings that I saw over 2 stories tall, most of the old trees are preserved.

Each and Every One Its Own Solyndra

I drove through Indio / Palm Springs on Tuesday and was aggravated, as I always am, at just how few of the zillions of government-subsidized windmills are actually turning.  Saying that one in twenty were generating power would be generous.  I know the wind was blowing because a few of them were turning.

On Thursday I drove back through and tried to take a video, though all I had was my iPhone.

You have to squint to see all the dead windmills in the back of the first shot.  If you have never been to this site, you many not be able to comprehend just how far in the distance the dead masts go.  Here is another shot from several miles further down the site

Here is my proposal.  We make this whole area a National Park and call it "Corporate State Park."  It would be at least as educational as any other National Park.

Is That A Gun, Or Are Your Just Happy To See Me?

I say a sign the other day at the airport that full-body millimeter-wave imaging was coming soon to the Phoenix airport.  I guess this was pretty inevitable, and has certainly been predicted in many movies, including Total Recall:
Totalrecallxrayscene

I can't really decide if this is any more invasive and humiliating than what we already do, ie get undressed, put our medications and creams in clear plastic bags for all to inspect, and subject ourselves to full-body pat downs.  For my part, based on this and numerous other humiliations, I am working as hard as I can to minimize how often I fly.  JD Tuccille has more, and observes that body cavity searches aren't just for airplanes any more:

If you think that air travel is starting to resemble a very-expensive
East Germany-nostalgia tour and you'd prefer a less-intrusive
alternative, you might consider traveling by train. Well, except, not
on Amtrak, which implemented random bag searches, armed guards and bomb-sniffing dogs earlier this year.

Even local travel is iffy, since New York City has been subjecting subway passengers to annoying searches for the past three years. Los Angeles's MetroLink implemented a similar policy this week, apparently just so officials there wouldn't feel left out. Metrolink spokeswoman Denise Tyrrell told the Los Angeles Times

As a postscript, I had a meeting the other day with the National Park Service in Denver.  To get inside - remember this is the park service, no other agency shares this building - I had to give up my driver's license, have all my bags searched, and go through an X-ray machine.  Does anyone think that maybe we have lost some perspective when I have to go through full-on invasive security to discuss merchandising at a gift shop?

Can't Anyone Solve Problems Without the Government?

Here is today's lament in the Arizona Republic:

Government plans to more than double the size of Petrified Forest
National Park appear to be in jeopardy because Congress has failed to
come up with the cash to buy surrounding properties.

The upshot: An irreplaceable treasure of dinosaur bones and Indian
ruins may be lost as ranchers sell off their properties for subdivision
and development.

And Petrified Forest is not alone. A study to be released April 8 by
the non-profit National Parks Conservation Association, says 56 federal
historic and recreation sites "could lose
land inside their borders to developers this year." Others on the list
range from Gettysburg National Military Park near Philadelphia to
Golden Gate National Recreation Area in San Francisco.

Here is an idea:  All you folks who are worried about these "treasures" can pool your money and buy the properties yourselves.  That way you can either take charge of the preservations or donate the land to the government to do so.  This is how many public parks came into being in the first place, from private donations.

Of course, this was back in the days when environmental groups actually spent their money on the environment.  Today, they spend their money instead on lobbying.  The more modern approach is not to spend your own money on the environment, but to lobby the government to force other people to spend their money on the environment.  That is why people have apparently donated $300 million dollars (!) to Al Gore to create an advertising campaign dedicated to trying to spur government action on CO2.  Rather than donating money to help solve the problem, people now donate money to push for government coercion.

Besides representing the modern approach to environmentalism  (ie don't work the problem, just lobby the government to force other people to work the problem), Gore's campaign also represents a new frontier in rent-seeking.  He has managed to get people to donate $300 million dollars to advocate government action that will likely have very little actual impact on the climate, but may have a huge impact on Al Gore's managed $5 billion investment fund.  Congrats, Al.  Even the kings of rent-seeking at ADM would not have had the cojones to ask folks to donate to a charitable advertising fund to support their subsidy requests.

 

The Government Trap

From the NY Times via Maggies Farm:

The rescue of the
Florida Everglades, the largest and most expensive environmental
restoration project on the planet, is faltering.

Seven years into
what was supposed to be a four-decade, $8 billion effort to reverse
generations of destruction, federal financing has slowed to a trickle.
Projects are already years behind schedule. Thousands of acres of
wetlands and wildlife habitat continue to disappear, paved by
developers or blasted by rock miners to feed the hungry construction
industry.

The idea that the federal government could summon the
will and money to restore the subtle, sodden grandeur of the so-called
River of Grass is disappearing, too.

If, forty years ago, individuals who cared about the Everglades had banded together with private money, they could have bought up and preserved huge tracts of land around the current National Park.  Instead, as so many activists do today, rather than trying to rally private action they lobbied the government to do something about it.  Once the ball was thrown into the Feds' court, all incentive for private action disappeared, and as is so often the case, the Feds bungled their way $8 billion to little effect.

Sample Environmental Requirements

Often businesses complain about ridiculously tedious environmental regulation and paperwork, and they don't seem to get much sympathy.  The usual opposing response is just to say "oh, you guys just are mad that you can't dump dioxin in the river any more."

But I am here to tell you -- many of the requirements are really, really detailed, time-consuming, and of questionable value.  To demonstrate this, I am going to let you into my life for a minute.  Among the many recreation facilities we operate (my business described here), we run a small pair of marinas on Blue Mesa Lake in Colorado.  At these marinas we rent boats, have a fuel dock, and do some light boat maintenance for customers.  We are renting the facility from the government (specifically the National Park Service), and as our landlord they provided all the facilities.

When we inherited the facilities from the previous tenant, they were in awful condition.  We have had to spend a lot of money brining the government's facilities up to standard, removing years of hazardous waste, etc.  Our reward was to get audited by the EPA and the NPS.  For those of you who are interested in what environmental regulation looks like to a small business, you may view a pdf of our audit results.  You can't possibly read everything, but skim through the findings to get the general idea.  And as you are reading, note that this is a GOOD audit -- we were actually commended in Washington for the work we had done cleaning up the place.  And still this work list remains.  Remember also while reading this that I don't run a chemical plant or a steel mill, this is a small marina on a lake.

For those who don't want to scoll through all 52 items, here is one, chosen at random:

Audit Finding:
Each container of hazardous chemicals in the workplace was not labeled, tagged, or marked with the following information:
- Identity of the hazardous chemical(s) contained therein; and
- Appropriate hazard warnings.

For example:

  • A white plastic bucket was observed with no label in the flammable cabinet at the maintenance yard;
  • Three unlabeled 55-gallon drums were observed at the maintenance yard, one of which had a sign of leakage;
  • An unlabeled plastic white bottle was observed on one of the blue drums at the maintenance yard;
  • A red flammable container was observed next to the flammable cabinet at the maintenance yard. The cap was not on. It was noted that the container was partially full with water;
  • Two red and one blue unlabeled drums were stored at the back of the maintenance yard. The blue drum had signs of leakage;
  • The carbon dioxide cylinder in use at Pappy's Restaurant had a worn label;
  • Two unlabeled spray bottles were observed in Pappy's Restaurant washing room;
  • An unlabeled bucket was observed in Pappy's Restaurant washing room under a shelf on which detergents are stored;
  • Unlabeled partially full buckets were observed in Pappy's Restaurant washing room;
  • An unlabeled spray bottle was observed in the maintenance room for the showers at Elk Creek; and
  • An spray bottle that contained purple liquid was observed in the shower maintenance room at Lake Fork.  The bottle had a worn label.

Update:  From the looks of this fish, maybe we are putting something odd in the lake!

Update:  Here is another good one:

Audit Finding:
Concessioner staff had not submitted an ozone-depleting substance (ODS)-containing equipment registration form and fee with the State of Colorado.

Good old Colorado.  Colorado is one of the states I have to have a special license to sell eggs

Here is a quick contest -- I will send a free  copy of my book (my global warming book or my novel BMOC) to the first reader who can email me with a link to the correct Colorado web page with information and/or forms for the ODS-containing equipment registration.  I can't find it.

Update 2:  I can be a man and admit when another man has bested me.  So I must admit that though it is my environmental audit, TJIC has a much better post on it than I have.  Maybe because he seems to have read more of it than I have.

Our First National Park Service Contract

Why blog if you can't engage in a little personal vanity?  Our company just won our first contract with the National Park Service, to run the Elk Creek Marina and other facilities on Blue Mesa Reservoir in the Curecanti National Recreation Area in Colorado.

Woohoo.

Jim Balsillie: Congratulations on Making Me Feel Like a Loser

There is a price one pays for slipping into the Harvard Business School through some mysterious hole in the Harvard admissions process:  From time to time, one must be ready to be humbled by their peers.  Of course, with nearly 900 people in a graduating class, one expects someone in that group to distinguish themselves at some point.  However, this large groups is somehow indistinct - at HBS one spends most of their time with 90 people in their "section", spending the vast majority of waking hours, both in class and in the pub, with this group.  After a couple of years with the same 90 people, one gets the overwhelming impression of normality -- these people are just as full of shit as anyone else I have gotten to know.

So it is both expected and with some surprise that I have begun to see these 90 people start making headlines.  My section-mates have distinguished themselves as executives and industry leaders and entrepreneurs  and lifestyle writers and business writers and fashion moguls and artists even as the notorious.  Humiliating levels of fame and success seem to be the rule among these ostensibly ordinary people.

This week, however, another member of our 90-person section (1989-B, on the off chance you are a fellow alum and were wondering) has gone to the next level.  This week Time magazine named Jim Balsillie, CEO of RIM (the Blackberry people) to their list of the 100 most influential people.  Wow.  Congratulations Jim.  The bad news is we are all totaled humbled about our own success trajectories in comparison.  The good news is that Jim will obviously "draw fire" away from the rest of us when Harvard comes looking for money.  Its a funny combination of old and new to think about the CEO of Lili Pulitzer and the CEO of Blackberry sitting next to each other all through our first year.

Postscript:  By the way, for those of you who may be tempted to put me on suicide watch, I am pretty much joking, though not about my section mates - they are all as awesome as portrayed here -- but about any dissatisfaction with my career.  Several times in my life I have been presented with opportunities to pursue high-profile wealth.  In most cases, I have turned these down, with zero regrets.  In fact, since one of the first of these rejected opportunities involved following Jeff Skilling from McKinsey to Enron, I really, really have no regrets.   Each day I am out visiting my operations at some National Park or other, I will think about the rest of you filling out your TPS reports.

UPDATE:  Welcome to fellow sectionmate Karen Page, author of numerous Amazon 5-star rated books on food, wine and becoming a chef, who links to me today (oops, Karen is slipping - a few of the books only have 4-1/2 stars).  Not only is Karen part of that vast section B conspiracy to make me feel inadequate, she also has a much cooler blog than mine.