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Parks at risk as Corps braces for shutdown

Agency draws up plans in case Congress is unable to pass a budget
SoVaNow.com / September 25, 2013
With Congress on the verge of shutting down the federal government, many in Southside Virginians, like the rest of the country, will spend this week trying to ignore the sniping in Washington, D.C.

But the prospect of a shutdown certainly has the attention of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, operators of Kerr Dam and Reservoir, whose presence in the area gives Mecklenburg County a huge stake in the outcome of the political brawl.

Like other federal agencies, the Corps has been instructed to prepare for a shutdown, which would result at the end of the day Monday unless Congress passes a continuing budget resolution to fund the government.

One likely impact: having to “lock the gates” at Corps-operated parks and other facilities on Buggs Island Lake, including the Tanner Environmental Education Center, North Bend Park, Rudd’s Creek Park, Longwood Park, Island Creek Park, and Tailrace Park.

“It is demoralizing to the staff,” said Ann Johnson, head of media relations for the Corps’ Wilmington District office, which oversees the Kerr project. She said USACE employees already are discouraged by seeing their projects shelved and their pay checks reduced due to work furloughs arising from the federal budget sequester. Now, the Corps is in the process of developing a plan for handling a shutdown, including notifying those who have campground reservations to cancel their plans.

Day users, including fishermen who use Corps-operated ramps, may find access to the lake more limited if the USACE is forced to close its boat launches as well as campgrounds. Those planning a nature walk or hoping to enjoy the changing leaves might want to consider an alternate site, such as Occoneechee State Park.

State-operated parks, docks and boating areas will not be affected by a federal shutdown.

While no one can predict the lost revenue to businesses around the lake — from gas stations to restaurants to bait and tackle shops — the impact will certainly be felt.

USACE operations not impacted by a shutdown include operation of the John H. Kerr Dam and Powerhouse, Johnson said, since that represents a health and safety issue. However, the powerhouse may have to operate with a reduced staff.

Another arm of the government that could feel the impact of a shutdown is the county school division. Superintendent of Schools Jim Thornton said Mecklenburg schools will not suffer immediately, but a shutdown could affect the county’s Title 1 money — funds used to help disadvantaged students and pay the cost of providing free or reduced lunches. Every elementary school in Mecklenburg County is a Title 1 School.

Like USACE officials, Thornton said “we’ve already felt the impact of sequestration” on Title 1 funding.

Other federal workers locally who could be affected by a shutdown are Post Office employees. Since their services are considered “critical,” postal workers will not be furloughed during the shutdown. However, instead of a paycheck, as early as October these workers might see an IOU from the federal government — at least until funding is restored by Congress.

Planning to leave the country any time soon? You had best already have your passport or travel visa. Federal employees who process that paperwork are not critical service workers, and therefore would most likely be furloughed.

For recipients of federal checks — Social Security, either disability or retirement — the picture is brighter. The government will continue to issue the checks even in the event of a shutdown, and doctors and hospitals will receive Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements. However, if the government does not resolve the current budget debate by Nov. 1, some entitlement program payments could be delayed by up to two weeks.

The debate raging in Washington is over implementation of the Affordable Care Act, commonly known as Obamacare. Congressional Republicans have passed a budget resolution that would defund Obamacare, drawing a veto threat from President Obama and a promise by the Democratic-controlled Senate to ignore the action. The action by the GOP-controlled House comes as a key part of the Affordable Care Act, the opening of state insurance market exchanges, is due to take effect Oct. 1.

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Comments

Oh no! Please don't do it. There's no one capable of running a park other than the federal government.

Comments

Shut the bastards down. I need a break. http://www.usdebtclock.org/

Comments

It is a travesty that we have such a divided congress. Nothing will get done with all this fighting. We need Democrats and Republicans to work together. The only way anything will get done in Washington DC is if we compromise and meet in the middle where we can screw the American people from both sides.

Comments

I agree US Debt, shut it down,


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