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Federal government shutdown consequences emerge along North Coast

The repercussions of the partial federal government shutdown have begun to emerge along the North Coast as the stalemate between Democratic congressional leaders and President Trump over his insistence on a border wall entered its 12th day on Wednesday.

For example, there’s the air traffic control workers at Charles M. Schulz-?Sonoma County Airport still on the job despite no guarantee of getting their next paychecks. The same situation is playing out at the U.S. Coast Guard station at Bodega Bay - those active-duty personnel who haven’t been furloughed. And local winery owners have to put up with a growing backlog on getting federal approval for their new wine labels.

At Point Reyes National Seashore, which is still open with limited services, tourists enjoyed the 71,028-acre park along the Marin County coast on a sunny but chilly day. But the shutdown was on the minds of some.

Emma Weers, a sixth-grader from Three Oaks, Michigan, got a kick out of seeing deer and quail near the visitor center. She took a photo of the quail with her iPhone and sent it home to her sister. “There it is, a little blurry,” she said.

Her mom, however, was a bit piqued that the National Park Service was forced to close its visitor center, suspend guest services and lock the flush toilets.

“It’s inconvenient and ridiculous,” Mary Weers said.

The seashore’s flush toilets were closed at the start of the shutdown on Dec. 22, and most trash containers are now full or overflowing, said John Dell’Osso, a spokesman for the park. Vault toilets at some trailheads and parking lots will remain open until they fill with waste as no pumping service is available, he said.

The primary concern is for the affected workers, said U.S. Rep. Mike Thompson, D-St. Helena, as about 800,000 federal employees across the country have been placed in financial jeopardy if the stalemate isn’t resolved soon. Of that total, about 380,000 are not reporting to work, while 420,000 workers were deemed essential and are working with no guarantee that they will receive their next scheduled paycheck.

“It impacts their family. It impacts their children. It’s impacting them in the holiday season,” Thompson said. “You have people who have to make house payments. People have to make car payments. I had reports of people returning their Christmas presents.”

Trump signaled Wednesday that he was ready for a protracted fight as he told reporters during a Cabinet meeting that the impasse “could be a long time or could be quickly.”

But Thompson placed all the onus on Trump. He said that during a Dec. 11 meeting with incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, the president told the two in front of the White House media that “I am proud to shut down the government over border security.”

“He stated this on television news in front of the whole world,” Thompson said.

The federal workers primarily affected in the North Coast are likely to be Coast Guard employees, as the agency employs about 4,000 from Monterey to Bodega Bay, said Brandyn Hill, spokesman for the agency. Besides the Bodega Bay Station, the Coast Guard also operates a training center in Petaluma.

The active-duty members are on the job, Hill said, while 43 civilian employees in California have been furloughed. The agency is under the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

The agency’s operations haven’t changed much, Hill said, though it has curtailed regular training exercises. “During the shutdown we are only allowed to do missions that are actually saving someone’s life,” he said, noting two rescues off the Santa Cruz coast around New Year’s Eve.

Active-duty and reserve members received a break when the department provided a one-time order to pay them through Dec. 31. Their next paycheck date is Jan. 15, Hill said, but they will not receive payment unless the deadlock is resolved.

About 10 Federal Aviation Administration employees who work at the Sonoma County airport also are working without any guarantee of receiving their next paycheck. Craig Lucas, air traffic tower manager at the airport, said the tower operations have not been affected by the government shutdown, but declined further comment on effects on his staff.

Also at the airport, about 20 security workers who screen passengers could potentially be affected; however, they are not employees of the Transportation Security Administration. They are employees of a federal subcontractor, Trinity Technology Group of Manassas, Virginia. A company official did not return a call asking for comment on the workers’ plight and whether they are still being paid.

The shutdown effects go beyond paychecks. Local wineries will face a delay in getting approval for their wine labels because the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau has stopped processing such applications. The agency is under the U.S. Department of the Treasury.

The Wine Institute, the main trade group that represents California wineries, had warned its members last month to submit their applications as soon as possible, given the possibility that the shutdown may linger for weeks. The first bottlings from the ?2018 vintage will occur this spring.

Other local areas where the federal government plays a crucial role will likely start experiencing some negative effects, such as the San Pablo Bay National Wildlife Refuge. For instance, Thompson said he met recently with two environmental groups who were concerned about cholera outbreaks in waterfowl at wildlife refuges across the country. That disease management is being handled by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, whose workers have been furloughed.

Back at Point Reyes, Jessica Lage of Berkeley took a 4-mile run Wednesday on the Bear Valley Trail, which was open during the shutdown like all the roads and trails in the seashore, a popular destination that draws 2.5 million visitors annually. She passed hikers, horseback riders and mountain bikers but far fewer than she expected as a frequent park runner.

“It was good because there were so few people,” Lage said.

Most of the seashore’s 80 to ?90 employees are furloughed and going without pay, Dell’Osso said. Staffing is reduced to him, three to four park law enforcement rangers, the horse ranch manager and a water treatment operator.

Some came prepared. Evan Brooks and Tyler Facto, seniors at Mario Carrillo and Cardinal Newman high schools, respectively, were loading their backpacks in the visitor center parking lot, preparing for overnight stays at two of the seashore’s backcountry campgrounds.

“We brought a towel and toilet paper just in case,” Brooks said.

You can reach Staff Writer Bill Swindell at 707-521-5223 or bill.swindell@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @BillSwindell. You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com.

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