Government can’t avoid shutdown

HOUGHTON – Although some residents may not be aware of it, the shutdown of the federal government, which began early this morning, will affect the Copper Country, including its two national parks.

The partial shutdown of government functions resulted from the inability of members of Congress to reach an agreement yesterday on a bill to temporarily fund the government as the country’s 2013 fiscal year ended at midnight. Many Congressional Republicans wanted to defund the Affordable Care Act and wouldn’t agree on a temporary funding bill for the government unless the funding for the ACA was removed from any bill.

The repercussions of the inability of Congress to fund the government are being felt at the Keweenaw National Historical Park where Superintendent Mike Pflaum said as of 8 a.m. this morning all but one of the 12 permanent and five seasonal employees will be on unpaid furlough.

Pflaum said all of the park’s buildings will be closed as of 8 a.m., including the headquarters and Keweenaw History Research Center on Red Jacket Road, and the Calumet Visitor Center on Fifth Street in Calumet Township.

“Basically, all of our facilities open to the public will be closed,” he said.

The KNHP is a partnership park, and although many of its partners are privately owned businesses and will still be operating if they choose to do so, Pflaum said they may be somewhat affected by the shutdown.

“We would be unable to respond to requests for technical assistance for our partners,” he said.

Pflaum said the KNHP fiscal year began today, but for now everything is on hold at the park.

“We can’t operate without a budget authority to operate,” he said. “Until it’s resolved, we’re basically shutdown. We’re paralyzed.”

Pflaum said one full-time employee will remain on the job to make certain all the buildings are secured, be available for emergencies, and to be a communication link for the park.

Pflaum said KNHP employees came into work as usual this morning, but because of the shutdown, they were given furlough notices.

This is the first federal government shutdown since the winter of 1995-96. Because of disagreement over the proposed federal budget in 2011, the government came close to shutting down.

“A continuing (funding) resolution was signed at the last hour,” Pflaum said of the situation in 2011.

Also affected by the shutdown, although to a lesser extent, is Isle Royale National Park in Lake Superior.

Betsy Rossini, IRNP assistant superintendent, said the park is nearing the end of its season.

“We would have been open for another three weeks,” she said. “(Now) we’re going to go into a shutting-down-the-island-mode.”

Rossini said because of the government shutdown, it is unknown how the closing of the IRNP will take place. It requires the removal of water from water lines so pipes don’t burst in the winter, all of the park’s boats have to be removed from the water and put into storage, and buildings have to be secured.

There are 31 employees on Isle Royale and 12 in the park’s headquarters in Houghton, Rossini said. Two employees on the island and one law enforcement employee in Houghton are exempted from the shutdown.

Rossini said there are still park visitors on Isle Royale, and the National Park Service’s Ranger III ferry boat is scheduled to bring them back to Houghton today.

The government shutdown will also affect some programs receiving federal funding at Michigan Technological University, according to Dave Reed, Tech vice president for research.

Reed said it’s uncertain exactly what programs and projects at Tech will be affected by the shutdown.

“We work within a number of agreements and only one has sent any guidance (regarding the shutdown),” he said.

The one agency which has communicated with the university is the National Science Foundation, which told Tech to continue working on NSF-funded projects because the money for them has already been appropriated.

Reed said once a project is approved for federal funding, the university sends notice to the funding agency for reimbursement, which then sends the money.

Since it’s uncertain what funding will be available to Tech during the shutdown, Reed said he sent notices to the university’s deans and department chairs to hold off on spending until the situation is resolved.

“We think we’re going to get the reimbursements, but we don’t know for sure,” he said.

Because Isle Royale National Park is closed, Reed said it’s unlikely Tech’s ongoing wolf/moose study will continue.

Reed said Tech has about 800 active grants at anytime with a value of $9 to $10 million per year, which could be affected by the shutdown.

“Hopefully, (the shutdown) doesn’t go over a year,” he said.

Reed said payroll at Tech won’t be affected by the shutdown.

Another project which will be affected by the government shutdown is the Torch Lake Superfund Site. Although most of the areas in the site have been deleted from the National Priorities List by the Environmental Protection Agency, the Quincy Smelting Works site in Ripley and the Calumet Lake site in Calumet Township still need to be deleted.

Although a representative of the EPA could not be reached for comment for this article, the agency’s website states at the Region 5 office in Chicago, which oversees the Torchlake Superfund site, of the 1,167 employees, 59 are either excepted or exempted from the shutdown.