Parks to close if federal shutdown; most Collier, Lee services would continue PHOTOS

Visitors hop into their kayaks during a guided trip at Tarpon Bay Explorers Club in the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Thursday, April 7, 2011. The refuge is one of the many places threatened by the looming U.S. government shutdown. Greg Kahn/Staff

Photo by GREG KAHN // Buy this photo

Visitors hop into their kayaks during a guided trip at Tarpon Bay Explorers Club in the J.N. Ding Darling National Wildlife Refuge on Sanibel Island, Thursday, April 7, 2011. The refuge is one of the many places threatened by the looming U.S. government shutdown. Greg Kahn/Staff

How concerned are you about a potential federal government shutdown?

See the results »

View previous polls »

“I definitely want to assure the public that the Coast Guard will continue search-and-rescue, and law enforcement essential services,” Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Mariana O’Leary said of Southwest Florida operations. “If anyone needs help, we will go out and give them help.”

— Some Southwest Florida parks will close, veterans’ services will continue and the U.S. Postal Service will remain on its schedule if the federal government shuts down at midnight Friday as has been predicted.

“These buildings are not funded by people’s tax dollars,” the U.S. Postal Service’s Naples Postmaster Richard L. Barber said Thursday. “We do not ask Congress for any money.”

Barber said the Postal Service used to be the U.S. Post Office Department and was subsidized by tax dollars, but in 1971 became an independent operation that has to support itself financially.

“We are not funded by federal dollars,” he said.

So, even if there is a federal shutdown, residents can continue to mail in their 2010 tax returns to the Internal Revenue Service until April 18 — Tax Day this year because April 15 is a local holiday in Washington, D.C.

A federal government shutdown also won’t affect military activity in the U.S., according to a statement from Department of Defense officials.

“Military personnel are not subject to furlough and will report for duty as normal during the shutdown,” William Lynn, deputy secretary of defense, wrote in the statement. “Civilian personnel deemed to be performing excepted activities will continue to work during the period of shutdown.”

In the statement, Lynn added that operations and activities essential to safety, protection of human life, and protection of national security aren’t covered by the shutdown.

Locally, those operations to remain open include military recruiting stations in Collier and Lee counties and the U.S. Coast Guard Station at Fort Myers Beach. All of these are considered essential and therefore will remain active throughout any shutdown.

“It’s going to have very little impact on us. We’re going to continue to do our jobs as normal,” Chief Daryl Jenkins, a recruiter at the Naples Navy recruiting station, said about the looming shutdown.

Lee County military recruiting offices wouldn’t confirm the number of employees at their respective offices. But Air Force, Army, Marine and Navy recruiting stations in Naples employ a total of nine recruiters, representatives of those offices said. The Coast Guard Station at Fort Myers Beach has 49 on staff.

“I definitely want to assure the public that the Coast Guard will continue search-and-rescue, and law enforcement essential services,” Coast Guard Petty Officer First Class Mariana O’Leary said. “If anyone needs help, we will go out and give them help.”

Also, anyone retired from the military and receiving benefits won’t be affected by the shutdown.

To a lesser extent, the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs will be affected by a shutdown.

According to a Veterans Affairs official, the agency still believes there is an opportunity to avoid a government shutdown, but the administration and VA are working to ensure they are prepared for whatever occurs.

Thanks to a two-year budget cycle, VA officials said the department will continue to provide health-care services to all veterans enrolled through VA medical centers in Southwest Florida and nationwide. Veterans’ medical appointments will not be canceled or delayed in the event of a partial government shutdown.

VA officials said that while there will be a reduction in benefits staffing, VA has taken measures to ensure, in the short-term, that veterans receiving VA benefits will continue to receive those payments timely, without interruption.

“We are still hopeful that Congress is going to come to an agreement of some sort,” said Leslie Velarde, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park, which has offices in Collier and Monroe counties.

The VA also will continue to provide burials in national cemeteries during any partial government shutdown. Some cemeteries may operate on a modified schedule.

Nevertheless, some VA services may be suspended in the event of a partial government shutdown. Those involve answering consumer inquiries by email, telephone or mail, routine recruiting, hiring and training, and fraud investigations.

“In the event of a shutdown, we will ask veterans to keep monitoring VA’s website for additional information, including frequently asked questions and correspondence from the leadership team,” department officials said.

However if the government shuts down, the country’s 394 national parks will close their gates.

“We are still hopeful that Congress is going to come to an agreement of some sort,” said Leslie Velarde, spokeswoman for Everglades National Park, which has offices in Collier and Monroe counties.

But if the shutdown happens, Everglades National Park will close and nonessential Park Service employees will be furloughed, she said.

National parks usually have about 805,000 visits per day in April, and those visitors spend $32 billion per day in local economies, according to the National Parks Conservation Association.

Other parks that would be affected in Collier and Lee counties include Big Cypress National Preserve and J.N. “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge. The only people working would be essential personnel, including firefighters, law enforcement and emergency services employees.

At Ding Darling, the 16 federal employees and two interns would be placed on furlough, said Toni Westland, supervisory refuge ranger.

The park’s popular wildlife drive usually opens at 7 a.m. Saturdays to cars, bikes and people on foot, but it won’t open if the shutdown occurs, she said.

Southwest Florida offices of the Internal Revenue Service, Social Security Administration and the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Middle District were contacted for comment. They referred inquiries to their Washington and Maryland offices, which didn’t immediately respond to explain which Southwest Florida offices might remain open or might close if there is a shutdown.

© 2011 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

  • Discuss
  • Print

Related Stories

Comments » 0

Be the first to post a comment!

Share your thoughts

Comments are the sole responsibility of the person posting them. You agree not to post comments that are off topic, defamatory, obscene, abusive, threatening or an invasion of privacy. Violators may be banned. Click here for our full user agreement.

Comments can be shared on Facebook and Yahoo!. Add both options by connecting your profiles.

Features