Mount Rushmore National Memorial has no greater ally than the Mount Rushmore Society, the nonprofit group that has raised millions of dollars to get it built and to improve the memorial.
So why is the National Park Service withholding information about the parking garage from the Rushmore Society, which has the contract to operate the facility?
The society has filed a complaint against the Department of Interior and the NPS under the Freedom of Information Act to obtain information on a taxpayer-funded assessment of the parking garage that was completed between 2011-2012. The Rushmore Society wants to know if there are structural problems in the garage that need to be fixed.
The parking garage was built nearly 20 years ago using private funds raised by the Rushmore Society. Parking fees collected from visitors are being used to pay off the bonds on the $17 million structure and to maintain it.
The society’s 20-year contract to operate the garage expires in 2016, by which time the bonds will be fully paid. The Rushmore Society, meanwhile, is responsible for maintaining the garage.
Rather than provide the Rushmore Society the complete structural survey, the park service provided a summary list of needed repairs. Most of the repairs are minor, but the report identified a need to "search and secure source of water leaks at middle level, north wall West Garage. At East Garage, rebuild D24 at Mid-Level."
The society filed the FOIA complaint to learn more details of what could be a structural defect in the parking garage at Mount Rushmore.
Mount Rushmore National Memorial Public Information Officer Maureen McGee-Ballinger said the park service couldn’t release the full comprehensive assessment report because the garage’s operating contract is due to expire and releasing the condition assessment early would “compromise the bid process.”
Since the contract doesn’t expire for another three years, any structural problems should be addressed immediately. We don’t understand why the integrity of the bid process is more important than revealing information about possible structural problems to the garage’s operators.
Without the support and fund-raising efforts of the Mount Rushmore Society, the parking garage wouldn’t exist -- not to mention the memorial itself. This is how the memorial treats its staunchest supporters?
In our view, the parking garage’s structural assessment report, which was funded with public money, should be available to the public, especially to the garage’s concessionaire, so that needed repairs can be promptly made and public safety assured.
Meanwhile, the National Park Service should be more concerned about keeping its facilities in good repair and could learn to be a better friend to its supporters.