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Federal shutdowns to have minimal impact on Tri-Rivers area

By Amy Jo Martin, amartin@tidewaterreview.com

1:09 PM EDT, October 1, 2013

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The U.S. government began its first partial shutdown in 17 years on Tuesday, leaving residents in the Tri-Rivers area wondering about local impacts.

Though the shutdown has forced 401 national parks to close and one million workers to take unpaid leave, local authorities insist that the short-term effect on our localities will be minimal.

James-City County: Four federally run parks/areas in James-City County have been closed as a result of the shutdowns.

The Colonial Parkway, located near Historic Jamestowne, was blocked on Tuesday near the cut-over to the state-run Jamestown Settlement, which remains open. The parkway is also blocked just west of the interchange at Route 199.

Additional closures of the Colonial Parkway will occur if the shutdown persists, and all public areas along the parkway are closed to public use.

Historic Jamestowne, including the visitor center, glasshouse and Island Drive, as well as the Yorktown Battlefield, visitor center, tour roads, Moore and Nelson houses, beach picnic area, and parking lots in Yorktown, are all closed.

All park service areas at Cape Henry Memorial are closed to the public, as well.

King & Queen County: King & Queen County Administrator Tom Swartzwelder "does not expect any major issues" either. However, he voiced concerns about several uncertainties.

First, county staff is unsure of how the Virginia Stormwater Management Plan - newly-mandated by the Environmental Protection Agency - will be affected since the county must submit programs for review in December.

Also, King & Queen County is in the middle of working with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) on new flood maps and a new flood map ordinance.

"The shutdown could delay receipt of the new maps and guidance from FEMA, although we have until next summer to work on these issues," Swartzwelder said.

He added that the county's Social Services Department has advised him that most of the programs have temporary funding.

Virginia Department of Social Services Commissioner J.R. Simpson sent an email to the county saying that Social Services has "received confirmation that Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits and administrative costs would continue to be covered, even in the event of a federal government shutdown."

"Based on all available information, we anticipate programs administered by local departments of Social Services will not be impacted in the event of a short-term (less than 30 days) federal government shutdown. Should a shut down occur and last more than 30 days, we will have to reconsider," Simpson said.

King William County: "King William County is not expecting any shutdown impacts at this point," said King William County Administrator Trent Funkhouser.

If the shutdown lasts more than one week, however, the county will review its concerns about federal agency reimbursements for grant projects or ongoing activities that could affect schools, social services, or law enforcement, he added.

"Longer term (1-3 months), there may be some operational issues but the county is not so intertwined with the federal government that there will be furloughs or other county government interruptions," Funkhouser said.

"If this situation goes on longer than 1-3 months, I believe we will be looking at a 'different world' and will have to consider the situation as it exists at the time."

New Kent County: New Kent County Administrator Rodney Hathaway does not think the county will be affected by the shutdowns, as long as they're brief.

"Right now, we're not anticipating any impact, though we do have some projects underway that are federally funded, such as the Route 612 airport project," he said.

Hathaway is unsure of whether the federal shutdowns will impact the county's ongoing federally-funded projects.

"We haven't been told to stop, so our projects are still underway," Hathaway said.

West Point: According to West Point Mayor Jim Hudson, staff is "unaware of any direct impact" that the shutdowns will have on the Town.

However, Hudson added that like other localities, West Point "will feel the impact collaterally."

The federal shutdowns are a result of unresolved healthcare and spending concerns among members of U.S. Congress.

Because lawmakers were unable to break a political stalemate in Congress, federal agencies were asked to cut back services.

The shutdown, the culmination of three years of divided government and growing political polarization, was spearheaded by Republican Tea Party conservatives united in their opposition to Obama, their distaste for the president's healthcare law and their campaign pledges to rein in government spending.

In the hours leading up to the deadline, the Democratic-controlled Senate repeatedly stripped measures passed by the House that tied temporary funding for government operations to delaying or scaling back the Affordable Care Act healthcare overhaul known as Obamacare.

Obama refused to negotiate over the demands and warned a shutdown could "throw a wrench into the gears of our economy."

Some government offices and national parks will be shuttered, but spending for essential functions related to national security and public safety will continue, including pay for U.S. military troops.

Reuters & The Virginia Gazette contributed to this story

Martin can be reached by phone at 804-885-0040.