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Home arrow News arrow Local News arrow Area braces for impact of federal shutdowns

Area braces for impact of federal shutdowns

By Terri Harber

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At least the mail will be delivered as usual.

The United States Postal Service is an independent branch of the U.S. government so the shutdown that began Tuesday doesn’t apply.

Programs and services provided by the city, county and school district aren’t likely to be significantly affected immediately either. 

Baker County Commission Chairman Fred Warner Jr. noted that a meeting Tuesday about Mason Dam probably would be missing some federal workers, such as U.S. Forest Service employees.

Other than that, “I don’t think it’s going to affect us,” he said. “At least for a week or two.”

Doug Dalton, the Baker School District’s CEO and business manager, said state education officials “don’t foresee any issues.” 

And Baker City Manager Mike Kee said “I think we’re OK.”

All three couldn’t say what might happen if the showdown were to linger, though it’s likely the impact would intensify should the shutdown be long lasting.

Most local programs already have been federally funded for this year. Pass-through money for roads, for example, might be in jeopardy if there’s not a resolution to the problems in Washington, D.C.

State government has offered to help in some situations, particularly education, Dalton said.

Eastern Oregon University doesn’t depend heavily on federal research grants. Many EOU students who depend on federal aid to pay for their education were concerned about whether these loan packages would be approved. 

The fall term started on Monday.

“Some students are still working on this,” said Tim Seidel, vice president for administration and advancement.

No one is answering telephones at the Research and Customer Care Center at 1-800-433-7327, which troubleshoots students’ problematic federal aid packages, he said. 

This is why the financial aid staff at EOU “will help as much as we can, or get them to the right places for assistance,” Seidel said. “We’ll walk them through the process, answer questions.”  

And, if possible, wait to resolve the matter until the federal government is back to full operations, he said.

Oregon State University’s Extension Service in Baker County isn’t heavily dependent on federal funds either, said Bob Parker, the county leader who is also responsible for forestry.

“Federal funding is not a huge piece of the puzzle,” he said.

Tourism

Visitors to the area may notice the impact of the shutdown before many locals. 

On Tuesday morning, employees of the National Historic Oregon Trail Interpretive Center were preparing to begin their mandatory furloughs.

“We’re just closing down, clearing out the fridge,” said Sarah LeCompte, the interpretive center’s director. 

This center is located near Baker City and overseen by the Bureau of Land Management. 

While getting tourists here will prove challenging, “I think in the end there’s also some opportunity from a tourism perspective,” said Timothy Bishop, the county’s marketing director.

Baker Heritage Museum is just one local attraction that could  draw more visitors as a result of the shutdown. 

The interpretive center is one of the area’s largest tourist attractions “and it is a huge impact on us,” Bishop said. “But it’s a beautiful time of year to visit.”

How the closure of national parks will affect local tourism is unknown, though Baker City is one of many communities that benefit from travelers stopping on their way to Yosemite or even Crater Lake.

Many federal sites remain accessible but without on-site employees, such as trails, Bishop pointed out.

He highlighted other area attractions as viable alternatives for recreation, such as Anthony Lake, Farewell Bend, Sumpter Valley Dredge, and the other state parks. 

There will be events around the county that should prove entertaining to visitors, such as the First Friday Arts Walk (Oct. 4), Halfway Fall Festival (Oct. 5), Artists Open Studio Tour (Oct. 5-6), A Taste of Baker (Oct. 5).

And next week there will be Sumpter Valley Railroad train tours (Oct. 11-13) and the Haines Harvest Festival (Oct. 12) that should prove interesting to visitors and locals alike.  

“We’re going to cross our fingers” that this shoulder season turns out well and that the county isn’t affected economically by the shutdown, Bishop added.

Bureau of Land Management

“Essentially all services provided by the Bureau of Land Management in Oregon and Washington will be suspended, with the exception of law enforcement and emergency response functions,” said a press release sent Tuesday by the BLM.  

Activities halted include: permitting for oil and gas processing; permitting and processing for renewable energy and other rights-of-way issuances; lease sales, permits and other nonemergency authorizations of onshore oil and gas, coal and other minerals; nonemergency abandoned mine land and hazardous-materials mitigation; Endangered Species Act and cultural clearances; sand and gravel permits; range management restoration; wild horse and burro adoptions; timber sales; and work on resource management plans, including those driven by court deadlines, according to the release. 

Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will suspend most programs and operations, including public access to all National Wildlife Refuges and all activities on refuge lands including hunting and fishing.

“Closing off public access to our national wildlife refuges and public lands is the last thing we want to do, but is consistent with operations called for during a government shutdown” said Dan Ashe, director of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, in a prepared statement. “This is difficult news for the families, birdwatchers, hunters and anglers, and recreationists who enjoy the great outdoors on the refuges — as well as for the many local businesses who depend on the tourism and outdoor recreation economy they generate. 

Some of the services that will continue to operate: emergency firefighting; activities necessary to protect life and property; federal aid in restoration of wildlife and sport fish; caring of animals at hatcheries and captive breeding facilities; emergency enforcement of refuge laws; natural resource damage assessment work; and programs financed by sources other than annual appropriations.

U.S. Forest Service

The U.S. Forest Service distributed its shutdown plan. 

“This plan assumes some Agency activities will continue that are essential to protect life and property and therefore are excepted from close down procedures,” the document stated.

These include: Job Corps; fire suppression; law enforcement; emergency and natural disasters response; emergency and defense preparedness; collections and payments related to past legal actions; guarding research studies that would be ruined if stopped; protection of federally owned property and investments “when the suspension of such activities would cause an imminent threat to human life and property.  This includes nurseries, insectaries, tree seed labs, and the minimum level of staffing to administer permits and contracts needed for protection of National Forest System lands.”

Telephoning such agencies as the Natural Resource Conservation Service and Wallowa-Whitman National Forest will result in hearing a recorded message because the employees aren’t working again until the shutdown is over.

The speaker who left the incoming message at the ranger’s office for the national forest instructs the caller to leave a voice or email message. 

However, the person warned that “we do not have access to email or voice mail due to the current lapse in funding.”

“I look forward to returning your message once funding has been restored,” the speaker said.

 
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