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Jan. 29, 2023

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Dozens of employees furloughed at refuges, parks in region

Fort Vancouver National Historic Site mostly empty amid partial government shutdown

By , Columbian staff writer
Published:
4 Photos
An informational message Monday morning at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site informs visitors such as Angie and Enrique Perez of Arizona, from left, and longtime friend Andrew Filipczak of Vancouver, of the closure at the park because of the federal government shutdown. Site workers were among those furloughed Dec. 21.
An informational message Monday morning at the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site informs visitors such as Angie and Enrique Perez of Arizona, from left, and longtime friend Andrew Filipczak of Vancouver, of the closure at the park because of the federal government shutdown. Site workers were among those furloughed Dec. 21. (Amanda Cowan/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

On a sunny, freezing New Year’s Eve, the Fort Vancouver National Historic Site was empty, save for the occasional dog walker or jogger.

Though the grounds remain open to the public, staff has been furloughed as a result of the partial federal government shutdown that began Dec. 21 and has affected around 800,000 employees across the country.

The shutdown encompasses all national parks, including the Fort Vancouver site. The indoor facilities at the historical attraction — the Visitors Center, Pearson Air Museum, McLoughlin House and reconstructed Fort Vancouver — have been shuttered. Trash collection, restrooms and road maintenance are all similarly shelved until employees can come back to work.

“AREA CLOSED,” reads a sign posted to the door of Pearson Air Museum. “Because of a lapse in federal appropriations.”

Workers at parks and wildlife systems bore the worst of the shutdown in Southwest Washington. The government closure left dozens of them without a job over the holiday season.

In the 2017 fiscal year, the Fort Vancouver site employed 24 full-time equivalent workers, according to the National Park Service budget justification document for 2019. The national wildlife refuges in Ridgefield, Steigerwald Lake and Pierce also closed, affecting 11 listed staffers.

Weather and monitoring services are down to skeleton crews. In Portland, the National Weather Service will “provide critical forecast, watch, and warning information to protect life and property throughout the shutdown,” according to the National Weather Service website. All other functions have been halted.

At the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Vancouver, the Volcano Hazard Program will continue to issue alerts, operate equipment and update data, while other nonessential functions have ceased.

Though furloughs may stretch well into the new year, they’re guaranteed to continue until at least Thursday.

That’s when the 116th Congress opens and new members vote on a stopgap measure that would fund the government until Feb. 8. In Washington, D.C., the sticking point is the $5 billion sought by President Donald Trump to build a wall along the United States-Mexico border. Funding for the border wall is unlikely to be approved by the incoming Democratic majority in the House of Representatives.

What’s still open?

There’s a silver lining — it could be worse. Of the agencies and employees who rely on federal funding, most based in Clark County have been unaffected by the partial shutdown.

In September, Congress passed a funding package for several federal departments including Defense, Energy and Veterans Affairs, leaving them largely unscathed by the upheaval.

As a result, some major federal employers in and around Clark County — the Vancouver Division of VA Portland Health Care System, the Bonneville Power Administration and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ Northwest Division among them — remain open and operational despite their reliance on federal dollars.

Like all other VA operations, the budget for the local veterans hospital was established in advance so it’s cushioned from temporary disruptions in federal funding. The medical facility remains open and fully staffed.

The Bonneville Power Administration also remains open. Although part of the U.S. Department of Energy, the BPA independently funds its own operations, said Kevin Wingert, the agency’s public affairs specialist.

“We’re not a congressionally appropriated entity. We generate our funds through marketing power, mainly through hydroelectric facilities,” Wingert said.

BPA works hand-in-hand with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at the Bonneville Lock and Dam on the Columbia River. Eileen Williamson, deputy chief of public affairs with the U.S. Army Corps’ Northwest Division, said the disruption to their operations has mainly come in the form of working with other furloughed agencies.

The Corps itself, as a recipient of Department of Defense dollars, remains mostly preserved.

“At the moment, we’re funded. We do coordinate with a lot of other federal agencies so that coordination could be impacted, but as far as our staff are concerned, we don’t see any impacts,” Williamson said.

The Western Federal Lands Highway Division, based out of Vancouver, similarly remains operational through the shutdown. A receptionist at the local headquarters confirmed Monday afternoon that the office is staffed and functioning.

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Columbian staff writer