A partial government shutdown that could extend through early 2019 has shuttered several federal operations on the Kenai Peninsula, and left other government employees working without pay.
Federal Aviation Administration employees, which include air traffic controllers and technicians at the Kenai Airport, are still performing essential duties, but without pay, Greg Martin, a spokesperson with the FAA, said.
Martin said FAA employees in Kenai, and around the nation, remain on the job to retain public safety.
“There’s no operational impact for Kenai because air traffic controllers and technicians remain on the job,” Martin said.
The shutdown started Saturday after President Donald Trump and lawmakers reached an impasse over the president’s demand for $5 billion to fund a border wall.
Funding lapsed for nine Cabinet-level departments and dozens of agencies, including the departments of Homeland Security, Transportation, Interior, Agriculture, State and Justice. Roughly 420,000 workers were deemed essential and are working unpaid, while an additional 380,000 have been furloughed.
Employees deemed essential or otherwise exempted from their respective agency furloughs can’t take any vacation or sick days.
Locally, a handful of federal entities will be closed and unavailable. Activity on the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge will be allowed to continue, but no visitor services will be available and the refuge warns that entrance into the refuge will be at the risk of the visitor.
In Homer, the Alaska Islands and Ocean Visitor Center is closed, but trails remain open, including a popular trail along Beluga Slough.
Homeland Security includes the U.S. Coast Guard. In Homer, that includes the crews of the U.S. Coast Guard Cutter Hickory and USCGC Naushon as well as the Marine Safety Detachment. The Public Affairs Office page for the Coast Guard is not being updated during the shutdown, and no one answered calls to the 17th District Alaska Public Affairs offices.
According to reporting by the Associated Press, Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said on Dec. 29 that 42,000 Coast Guard members nationwide are going to be paid for work performed before the government shutdown. Collins contacted the White House on Friday after she learned that a payroll system problem would prevent checks from being issued. She tweeted hours later that the matter had been resolved and that Coast Guard members would receive paychecks like other federal employees on Monday, Dec. 31.
A Coast Guard spokesman said operations are being scaled back during the shutdown to focus on search and rescue. Active-duty Coast Guard personnel are considered essential and remain on duty while most civilian workers are furloughed. Collins said the Coast Guard is funded through a different mechanism that, unlike the rest of the military, lacks full-year 2019 appropriations.
Both Lake Clark National Park and Kenai Fjords National Park remain accessible to visitors, however, access may change without notice and current conditions will not be updated. Visitors should enter at their own risk.
The Kenai office for the United States Department of Agriculture and Rural Development is closed due to the partial government shutdown, according to their office voicemail.
Neither the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers office in Soldotna and the Women Infants and Children office in Kenai have been affected by the partial government shutdown.
The shutdown will likely extend. The House and Senate gaveled in for a perfunctory session last Thursday, Dec. 27 but quickly adjourned without action. No votes were expected until this week. Lawmakers are mostly away for the holidays and will be given 24-hour notice to return, with Republican senators saying they won’t vote until all parties, including Trump, agree to a deal.
Although furloughed federal workers have been given back pay in previous shutdowns, it’s not guaranteed. The Senate passed a bill on Dec. 21 to make sure workers will be paid. The House will probably follow suit.
Some information in this report is taken from the Associated Press. Michael Armstrong contributed to this report as well. Reach him at email@example.com. Reach Victoria Petersen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• The Associated Press contributed to this report.