Fed shutdown closes some local offices

The failure of the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate on Monday to pass a continuing resolution funding the federal government has shut down some federal offices in Homer, including the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.

The U.S. Coast Guard is not affected and will continue duties, including search and rescue.

“We expect no impact on essential services and operations,” said Lt. Veronica Colbath, public affairs officer, USCG Juneau. “The maritime community shouldn’t see any impact in services that we provide to the public.”

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Fisheries Enforcement also is not affected by the shutdown. The U.S. Post Office in Homer also remains open. 

The Alaska Volcano Observatory, a cooperative program of the U.S. Geological Survey, the University of Alaska Fairbanks Geophysical Institute and the Alaska Division of Geological and Geophysical Surveys, remains open, though with reduced staff levels because of furloughed federal employees. Forecasts and updates on volcanic activity will continue.

However, these offices or facilities are closed:

• The Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center, including offices for the Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge and the U.S. Park Service;

• The R/V Tiglax, a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service vessel. An open house for the ship from 1-4 p.m. Saturday at the Homer Harbor remains scheduled, but could be canceled if funding is not approved by Thursday (see story, page 2);

• The U.S. Department of Agriculture offices; and

• The NOAA Kasitsna Bay Laboratory.

An empty parking lot Tuesday at the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center illustrated the effect of the shutdown. Often full in the summer with cars of visitors and staff, on Tuesday a lone Subaru was in the lot. A sign behind glass at the front entrance informed visitors of the closure and directed them to a Department of Interior website, doi.gov/shutdown, for more information. 

That government website was one of a few available, with many other websites not available. Administrators on government Facebook pages also put up notices the social media sites would not be updated.

Alaska Maritime National Wildlife Refuge Manager Steve Delehanty will remain on duty, he said Monday. Refuge lands technically are closed, but the shutdown primarily will affect refuges with gated access.

“It’s most unfortunate,” Delehanty said of the partial shutdown.

Offices for the state Kachemak Bay Research Reserve in the Islands and Ocean building are open, but visitors will have to make arrangements for staff to let them into the building by the west entrance.

Capt. Billy Pepper of the Tiglax said on Monday that in anticipation of the shutdown, crew prepared the vessel, with automated phone alarm systems in place that would route to Delehanty if an emergency developed.

The impasse in Congress came about over a bill sent by the House to the Senate that included provisions for delaying funding for one year of the Affordable Care Act. The Senate rejected those provisions.

Some provisions of the Affordable Care Act, such as enrolling in health insurance programs offered by state or federal exchanges, went into effect on Tuesday. Some people who qualify also can get government-subsidized health insurance.

Alaska Congressman Don Young, R-Alaska, who voted for the House bill funding the government, said in a statement that essential services such as military pay, Social Security and Medicare checks, VA benefits and access to VA medical facilities, unemployment benefits, food stamps and Medicaid would continue. The shutdown also would affect requests for processing gun permits, Young said. Young said he hoped the House and Senate would go to a Conference Committee to resolve its differences.

“It is my hope that the Senate will come to the table as soon as possible, negotiate in good faith, and maybe even suggest a new solution, instead of tabling the House’s ideas along party-line votes,” Young said.

Young’s office remains open, he said.

Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, also opposes the Affordable Care Act.

“As unworkable and bad as she believes the bill is, she understands that a government shutdown means lost paychecks for gas, rent and grocery money for the thousands of Alaskans who work for the federal government,” her office said in a press release. “It also impacts vital services for our veterans, seniors, children and disabled — and creates a harmful ripple effect on the Alaskan economy.”

In a letter to federal workers, President Obama criticized Congress for failing to pass a budget before the end of the fiscal year on Tuesday and the House for attaching what he called “highly controversial and partisan measures.”

“This shutdown was completely preventable. It should not have happened,” Obama said. “I want you to know that I will keep working to get Congress to reopen the government, restart vital services that the American people depend on, and allow public servants who have been sent home to return to work.”

As of Wednesday morning, the government had not been funded. According to the New York Times, Obama invited House and Senate leaders from both parties to urge the passing of measures to fund the government and increase the national debt limit.

Michael Armstrong can be reached at michael.