GREAT FALLS – Campsites at four state parks in western Montana would be electrified later this year under plans by the Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks.
Critics say the proposals are inappropriate, given Gov. Brian Schweitzer’s initiative to cut back on the state’s energy consumption. Other opponents say the state will compete with private businesses if the improvements are made.
Former legislator and outgoing Public Service Commissioner Bob Raney sharply criticized the plan to electrify campsites at Salmon Lake, West Shore, Placid Lake, and Lewis and Clark Caverns state parks.
Raney, who fought in the Legislature throughout the 1990s to keep development of the parks at bay, said the proposals send the wrong message about energy conservation, would increase the state’s maintenance costs and electricity bills and eventually would lead to higher user fees.
“Not only are we literally giving electricity away to the people who come to the campgrounds, but we’re also promoting the use of vehicles that get three or four miles to the gallon,” Raney told the Great Falls Tribune, which reported on the controversy Sunday.
“We’ve got a governor who says he wants state agencies to cut 20 percent of their electricity use by 2010, yet his parks department is developing electricity products at campgrounds right in the face of his ‘let’s use less’ program,” Raney said.
Hal Harper, Schweitzer’s chief policy adviser, said the governor’s office will examine the electrification plans to see if they fall in line with the energy conservation effort.
Sonny Huckaba’s family owns the Cardwell Store and Campground seven miles from Lewis and Clark Caverns State Park. Last season, the private campground charged $22.50 per night for campers to stay at one of its 32 sites, each with electric and water hookups. Huckaba said he’s considering changing his rates depending on what happens at the nearby state park.
FWP’s planned improvements would draw customers away from his campground in favor of the less-expensive, state-owned option, Huckaba said.
“In the summer, when the temperature is up, and even in the springtime, campers like to have electricity so they can run their air conditioners or heaters or whatever else,” he said. “In my opinion, the state of Montana is going to be in direct competition with private sector.”
State Sen. Carolyn Squires, D-Missoula, supports the electrification plan at Placid Lake State Park and said she doesn’t believe electrifying campsites will lead to competition with private businesses.
“I don’t know why the private (campgrounds) would be worried,” Squires said. “They’re closer to the freeway and they’re going to attract campers. The state (campgrounds are) farther off the main roads. You’ve got to be intent upon going to a state park.”
Squires said she supports electrified campsites because she suffers from respiratory problems that require specialized medical machinery, so electricity is a necessity. Plus, she said, she enjoys a different kind of camping than what tents can provide.
She said that for her — and for many people in their 40s, 50s, and 60s — “camping is using a television or having the air conditioner there when it is hot.”
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