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State parks projects under review due to delays, cost hikes

Sue Black, Arizona State Parks director, displays a bidding card for an auction in Prescott on June 30, 2015. The deputy director of Arizona State Parks & Trails is under investigation over accusations the agency bulldozed over archaeological sites. (Felicia Fonseca/AP, File)

Sue Black, Arizona State Parks director, displays a bidding card for an auction in Prescott on June 30, 2015. The deputy director of Arizona State Parks & Trails is under investigation over accusations the agency bulldozed over archaeological sites. (Felicia Fonseca/AP, File)

PHOENIX — Plans to expand and improve Arizona's state parks system are under review as key projects face delays and cost increases.

The projects are drawing new scrutiny in the wake of complaints that led to the ouster of Arizona State Parks and Trails director Sue Black. The agency's current leadership is reviewing all projects to determine their viability and to ensure all permits and clearances are secured properly, interim director Ted Vogt wrote in a Nov. 30 report to a legislative oversight committee.

The committee is scheduled to review the park projects Tuesday.

Vogt was appointed to head the agency in November after Gov. Doug Ducey fired Black following numerous complaints, including ones by former staffers who said potential archaeological sites were bulldozed to rush development of rental cabins and other improvements.

Only 25 of the 100 cabins planned for various parks through lease-purchase agreements have been installed yet the project's $1.6 million budget is nearly expended, the report said.

In a Dec. 11 briefing memo that accompanied the report, legislative budget analysts wrote the shortfall in cabin development was "due to higher-than-expected site preparation costs." The parks system's report said the agency is evaluating the cabin project scope based on its recent experience installing the cabins at Lost Dutchman, Patagonia and Lake Havasu parks.

Meanwhile, the planned $4 million development of a new rustic camping park known as Rockin' River Ranch along the Verde River in Yavapai County is lagging. Parks officials said they can't accurately determine a construction schedule until completion of designs and, before those, a cultural resource assessment of the property.

Elsewhere, plans given an informal go-ahead by lawmakers in 2016 to redevelop camping sites and recreational vehicle stations at Cattail Cove State Park on Lake Havasu along the Colorado River at a cost of $5.3 million are in a holding pattern as parks officials develop the project's master plan.

The parks report states the scopes of numerous other improvement and repair projects throughout the park system have changed due to various circumstances, including funding constraints.

Of 13 small projects funded with appropriations in the two fiscal years that ended in mid-2017 and mid-2018, only four are complete, legislative budget analysts said.

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