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Federal shutdown could affect several local agencies

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Under plans awaiting approval or approved, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers facilities at Philpott Lake — not including the Philpott Dam powerhouse — and Blue Ridge Parkway facilities would be closed if a federal government shutdown takes place, officials said Monday.

Ann Johnson, chief of public affairs for the Wilmington District, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, said Monday afternoon that if Congress did not pass a continuing resolution by 12 a.m. today to fund the continued operation of government, “we have a shutdown plan we’re waiting for headquarters to approve. We have carryover funds that will carry us through Saturday, Oct. 5, After that, we have no more carryover money.”

She said the Philpott Lake recreational park (not the powerhouse) would close at noon Friday.

According to Craig “Rocky” Rockwell, operations project manager at Philpott Lake, all but four or five of the 18 employees at the lake and powerhouse would be furloughed. All but one of those exempted employees work at the powerhouse. Rockwell said there are five powerhouse employees and 13 lake employees.

Rockwell said there would be no change in the operation of the dam. “We have to have essential personnel at the dam to keep things running.”

Rockwell added, “There’s not much more we can do except hope it (a shutdown) doesn’t happen.”

Leesa Brandon, the Blue Ridge Partnership’s partnership coordinator, said depending on what happened in Congress late Monday, the Blue Ridge Parkway would be given instructions on whether to implement today its plan to close all parkway facilities, including visitor’s centers, the music center, campgrounds, lodges, services and amenities. Staff would be furloughed except some staff to protect property and to keep the parkway secure and safe (such as law enforcement and some maintenance workers for water treatment and public health), she said. Also, scheduled programs would not occur, she said.

The plan calls for the parkway’s gates to remain open so that the public could travel the parkway, she said.

October, historically, is one of the high traffic months on the parkway, Johnson added.

In October 2012, there were 1,791,034 visitors.

Officials with the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce could not be reached for comment Monday.

Mark Heath, president/CEO of the Martinsville/Henry County Economic Development Corp., said he didn’t know what the impact on tourism would be if Philpott Lake and the Blue Ridge Parkway shut down operations if a federal government shutdown occurs.

“Obviously it wouldn’t be good” if there is a prolonged federal government shutdown, he said. A lot of tourism comes from Philpott and the parkway during leaf season.

“I wouldn’t hit the panic button yet,” he said. If a federal government shutdown were to last a day or two, that’s one thing, but if a shutdown were to last a month, that’s something else, he said.

“We’ll have to take it a day at a time and see what happens,” he said.

If Philpott and the parkway shut down operations, there are a lot of other local attractions, such as the Smith River Sports complex, which the EDC probably would promote more heavily, he said.

Martinsville City Manager Leon Towarnicki said city officials are still assessing the situation, but “it doesn’t appear it (shutdown) would have a significant impact, at least not short term” on the city government.

If a federal government shutdown were to continue several months, that might cause some problems for the city for federal grant-funded programs, but Towarnicki said he imagines a government shutdown would be resolved before several months had passed.

Henry County Deputy Administrator Dale Wagoner said of a possible federal government shutdown: “Primarily the impact on us immediately would be indirectly. Many of our programs and grant funds are federal money appropriated in previous federal budgets.”

If government workers who process checks (with federal or a combination of federal/state money) to localities are furloughed, there potentially might be a delay in Henry County getting money, he said. But more likely, he said, is the possibility that customer service would be unavailable — for example, it there’s a question about a grant application or which form to submit.

At this point, however, Henry County government has not received information indicating a shutdown would be a significant problem for the county, he said.

Superintendent Jared Cotton of Henry County Public Schools said in an email: “We are not clear on what impact, if any, there will be on the school division. We do receive federal funding for various programs and services (Title I and Title VIB, for example); however, since we are currently operating on federal funds from federal FY12 and FY13 appropriations, the school division should be fine for the short-term. The current stalemate only impacts FY14 appropriations based on information we have received from our contacts at the VDOE (Virginia Department of Education).”

Information about possible impacts from a federal government shutdown was unavailable from Martinsville City Public Schools.

Kris Landrum, public relations and marketing manager for Patrick Henry Community College, said, “It appears we should not experience any adverse effects” from a federal government shutdown. “Our federally funded programs are fully funded,” she said.

Leanna Blevins, associate director and chief academic officer of New College Institute, said she doesn’t foresee a major impact on NCI’s day-to-day operations. There are some federal moneys in the new building under construction in the Baldwin Block, but those moneys are only a portion of moneys being used to finance the project and should not delay the project, she said.

 

 
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