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Little immediate local impact seen if Feds shut down the Government

Glacier visitors’ center, Auke Rec could be without Forest Service employees starting Saturday

Posted: April 7, 2011 - 9:50pm
U.S. Forest Service Interpreter Laurie Ferguson Craig, left, speaks about the area's mountain goats as Mary and Jim O'Dell of Wisconsin, center, and Jim's brother, Brad O'Dell of Juneau, right, view goats from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center Thursday. A federal shutdown could close down the visitors center just as it is gearing up for the cruise ship season.   Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
U.S. Forest Service Interpreter Laurie Ferguson Craig, left, speaks about the area's mountain goats as Mary and Jim O'Dell of Wisconsin, center, and Jim's brother, Brad O'Dell of Juneau, right, view goats from the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors Center Thursday. A federal shutdown could close down the visitors center just as it is gearing up for the cruise ship season.

The U.S. Postal service would continue to run, but getting a new passport wouldn’t be an option. Soldiers will still serve their country — but without paychecks. Many federal employees in Juneau would be affected by a government shutdown if budget talks fail, but Juneau residents who aren’t federal employees may not see immediate impacts.

A shutdown of the federal government isn’t likely to have much of an impact on city government functions — at least not short term, City and Borough of Juneau officials say. But visitors to the Mendenhall Glacier would be without a visitor center, and employees.

City Manager Rod Swope admitted he hadn’t thought much about it, but there really wouldn’t be any core city government functions that would be affected. Public services and city processes would still go on. He said federal funding has already been processed.

Swope said the biggest impact will be in the form of citizens not receiving paychecks, and the trickle-down effects that may have.

At the Bartlett Regional Hospital, community relations director Jim Strader said it wouldn’t affect the hospital in the short term. He spoke with the hospital’s chief financial officer, and said if there is an impact it will be in Medicare and Medicaid payments.

He said it would not affect any services the hospital provides.

Those payments account for 40 percent of the hospital’s revenues, Strader said.

“In the short term we’re not concerned, in the long term we would be very concerned,” he said.

Jeannie Johnson, manager of the Juneau International Airport, said federal agencies work independently of her direction, but the airport will continue to operate.

“As I understand it, essential personnel will continue to work,” she said. “A piece of that will be TSA screeners, air traffic controllers — so flights will continue to fly, passengers will continue to be screened.”

Johnson said that in the “greater scheme of things” it could affect the funding the airport receives, which it relies on for projects. She said if the shutdown happens and is long-term it could affect their runway project.

The Tongass National Forest could face heavy consequences of a federal shutdown Friday night, with some of those effects felt in Juneau.

Forest Service Spokesman Ray Massey said there are contingency plans being developed at the national level and messages from the Secretary of Agriculture state there will be an orderly shutdown within the agency as a whole. Details on such a plan are still not released but some details may be available by mid-day today.

Juneau District Ranger Marti Marshall agreed the Forest Service couldn’t speculate on the shutdown but there would be consequences in the event the Service does end up in a furlough.

One such consequence would be the shutdown of the Mendenhall Glacier Visitors’ Center. Another would be the ceasing of all services in the Auke Village Recreation Area, including things like restrooms and trash service.

“We’ll have to rely on the public to pack it in, pack it out and keep the help us maintain our sites during this closure if it happens,” Marshall said, adding “We’re a little concerned about vandalism and trash.”

She also said the opening of campgrounds in Auke Village and the glacier area would likely be delayed.

As for the employees, Massey said there is no guarantee people furloughed during this period will be paid. That will be decided by Congress. He noted essential employees who work during this period would be paid once there is an appropriation.

Marshall also said there wasn’t any speculation on who those employees would be until details are released from Washington. She did not know if this includes anyone in the regional office but hopes this information, plus details on the entire contingency plan, will be available soon.

“Basically, we just have to sit tight and be prepared,” she said.

Tongass Public Affairs Specialist Wendy Zirngibl said they are hopeful the situation will be resolved but otherwise can’t speculate on the talks in Washington.

Massey agreed, stating, “We’re all hopeful there will be a budget before midnight tomorrow (Friday).”

As for the outlook for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Deputy Director for Communications and External Affairs Scott Smullen emailed a statement on NOAA’s background concerning the possible shutdown: “Agency operational plans are still being finalized, but our current understanding is that NOAA will provide services essential to ensure the safety of life and property, including: Weather alerts and forecasting; water level data for ships entering U.S. ports, critical nautical chart updates and accurate position information; essential aircraft and vessel mission support for Deepwater Horizon activities; law enforcement activities for the protection of marine fisheries and protected species; and monitoring and maintenance of critical research equipment and property.

“We still believe there is an opportunity to avoid a government shutdown but are working to ensure that we are prepared for all possible scenarios.”

• Contact reporter Sarah Day at 523-2279 or at sarah.day@juneauempire.com.

• Contact reporter Jonathan Grass at 523-2276 or at jonathan.grass@juneauempire.com.

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