Clark County residents would see effects of government shutdown

By Kathie Durbin and Erik Robinson

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The looming potential government shutdown would have subtle and not-so-subtle effects on Clark County residents.

National wildlife refuges would be gated, but essential services would carry on as usual.

The Portland Veterans Affairs Medical Center, including the Vancouver veterans’ clinic, will remain open. Because the Department of Veterans Affairs gets its appropriations a year in advance, it would be unaffected by the cutoff of federal funds, said a spokesman for Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., who chairs the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee. But processing of veterans’ disability claims and other veterans’ business likely would be delayed.

The Federal Housing Administration, which guarantees nearly 30 percent of all federally backed mortgage loans, would stop processing new loans, and the Small Business Administration would stop processing new loan applications from businesses.

On Thursday, staff for Murray and Democratic Sen. Maria Cantwell were still weighing whether to keep any of their offices in Washington state open if the shutdown occurs, and if so, which ones. A spokesman for U.S. Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler, R-Camas, said her Vancouver office would remain open even if the government closes its doors.

Clark County is the workplace for 2,900 employees of the federal government, about 2.3 percent of the county’s 125,000 total jobs. These jobs include federal law enforcement, the military, the U.S. Geological Survey and the U.S. Forest Service.

Sara Jivanjee, an administrative assistant with the U.S. Geological Survey in Vancouver, would experience the full brunt of the shutdown.

Jivanjee will not only experience an unpaid furlough, but she and a group of college friends had been planning a hiking trip in the Grand Canyon beginning next Wednesday. The National Park Service plans to barricade the trails and enforce the closure with officers who will remain on duty as usual.

“Apparently, keeping us out of there is essential,” Jivanjee lamented.

Similarly, visitors to national wildlife refuges in Clark County would arrive to find gates closing off public access if the government shuts down.

“We’re all crossing our fingers that it won’t, but we have to be ready,” said Jim Clapp, manager of the Steigerwald Lake National Wildlife Refuge near Washougal.

National forest recreational sites will remain accessible, but ranger district offices and the Gifford Pinchot National Forest headquarters building will be closed. The U.S. Department of Agriculture considers law enforcement officers to be essential, but it appears that the bulk of the Gifford Pinchot’s 170 permanent employees will be furloughed.

On the Columbia River, it’s unclear whether the multimillion-dollar federal cleanup of the abandoned barge Davy Crockett would be stalled by a government shutdown.

“It could potentially affect that, yes,” said Coast Guard Petty Officer Nate Littlejohn, a spokesman in Astoria, Ore. “I stress ‘potentially.’”

Active-duty military personnel will remain on duty, he said, but a shutdown could affect civilian employees and contractors.

Portland International Airport operates with the help of a long list of federal agencies, including the Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration and Immigration and Customs Enforcement. All of those functions will be considered essential and not subject to a government shutdown.

“We don’t have any information to lead us to believe that there would be an airport impact if there is a government shutdown,” said Steve Johnson, a spokesman for the Port of Portland, which operates the airport.

The Bonneville Power Administration, which operates the bulk of the Northwest’s transmission grid and markets electricity from federal dams, wouldn’t be affected by a shutdown. The Portland-based agency has a major presence in Vancouver.

“We don’t receive any appropriated money,” Bonneville spokesman Michael Milstein said. “We’re funded totally through the power revenues. Our power operations would be considered essential, in any case.”