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The New York Times

The New York Times


Battle Over the Budget: The Effects in West Texas; Closing Creates Texas-Sized Detour
Published: January 4, 1996

Tom Buck's long-haul delivery route has become longer, and leaner, with the Federal shutdown.

Mr. Buck normally drives about 70,000 miles a year for Basin Candy and Tobacco, delivering Marlboros, M&M's and Snickers bars to accounts across four West Texas counties that are among the state's largest and least populated.

But the closing in mid-December of Big Bend National Park as part of the shutdown means he can no longer drive through the park, the southernmost part of his route. And more important, the vending machines and grocery shelves in the park operated by National Park Concessions Inc., an important customer, have not needed restocking in almost a month.

Brewster County, in which the park is situated, has two north-south highways, vital thoroughfares for ranchers, tourists and businessmen like Mr. Buck. At their southern ends, the two connect via an east-west park road.

With Big Bend closed, the 53-mile trip from Study Butte on the park's western edge to Persimmon Gap at its northern entrance requires a 150-mile detour through Alpine, the county seat.

Until now, Mr. Buck's only hope had been a resolution of the budget dispute in Washington. But late this afternoon, the Brewster County government agreed to join in a lawsuit filed by several local businesses who have concessions in the park. In an emergency session Judge Val Beard, the county executive, had requested her fellow county commissioners to join with the businesses in the suit against the National Park Service.

Judge Beard noted that unlike many other national parks, Big Bend was conveyed to the Federal Government by the State of Texas, and that some unusual stipulations were associated with the transfer of title, including one that public roads must be kept open. The judge contends that the stipulations must be followed without exception.

Judge Lucius Bunton of the United States District Court for the Western District of Texas issued a temporary restraining order on Dec. 29 that prohibited the park service from preventing access to park roads by the concessionaires who were party to the lawsuit.

At a hearing on Monday, Judge Bunton will decide whether a preliminary injunction should also be granted, which could also open the roads to Mr. Buck and other businesses not party to the suit.