Larry Bell of Starkville casts his fishing line for bass and crappie at the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee National Wildlife Refuge Sunday. While Bell and others were still able to visit the refuge, they did so at their own risk due to limited staffing after the federal government shutdown. Photo by: Luisa Porter/Dispatch Staff
January 23, 2018 10:51:56 AM
A three-day federal government shutdown is over, after lawmakers passed a continuing resolution to fund the government through at least Feb. 8.
The shutdown began on Saturday, after Congress failed to pass a budget to fund the federal government. It ended Monday night, when President Donald Trump signed a resolution to keep the government funded for another three weeks.
Throughout the nation, the shutdown's effects crept into many aspects of federal work, such as the closure of federal office buildings, the closure of some national park sites and many federal workers being furloughed.
In the Golden Triangle, the brief duration helped keep the shutdown's impacts from being as severe as they could have been.
Columbus Air Force Base
Columbus Air Force base remained open and operational Monday. However, 47 percent of its civilian employees, or about 230 people, received notice they were being furloughed, according to CAFB public affairs officer Lt. Kara Crennan. Those notices were negated with the passage of the continuing resolution.
Shortly after Trump signed the continuing resolution, 14th Flying Training Wing commander Col. Doug Gosney wrote on the CAFB Facebook page that all civilian employees would return to work Tuesday.
"The POTUS has signed a (continuing resolution) extension through Thursday, 8 February 2018," Gosney wrote. "(The U.S. Office of Personnel Management) is directing Federal Employees return to work for normal duty on Tuesday, 23 January 2018. We look forward to having our Civilian Airmen Team Members back!"
The base's commissary was planned to stay open until Thursday, if a continuing resolution was not passed, Crennan said.
During October 2013 federal shutdown, 236 CAFB civilian employees were furloughed, and the commissary closed.
At the Sam D. Hamilton Noxubee Wildlife Refuge the federal shutdown made its presence felt through a reduction in staffing. A sign taped to the main entrance warned visitors to the refuge that fewer staff members would be available to provide assistance during visits.
"Due to a lapse in federal appropriations, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is unable fully to staff the properties under its management," the note said.
The note went on to warn visitors that entry onto the property was at their own risk and to use caution as long as the park was unable to assist them.
Refuge Manager Steve Reagan told The Dispatch the refuge remained minimally staffed during the shutdown, with just two employees on hand. The two employees, Reagan said, are himself and a law enforcement officer. Eleven other employees were furloughed until the shutdown ended Monday night.
On Tuesday, the refuge's staffing returned to normal.
Anything that takes staff to operate, such as the visitor center, closed during the shutdown. Reagan said it might have impacted events, but the refuge didn't have any scheduled for the three-day period that the shutdown lasted.
In Oct. 2013, during a government shutdown that lasted about half a month, the refuge remained closed, and placed a barricade on Bluff Lake Road to warn visitors to its closure.
Reagan said the difference in the 2013 and 2018 shutdowns comes down to instructions from the U.S. Department of the Interior, as the refuge itself doesn't have any leeway to determine the level of closure.
"During 2013, all activities at the refuge ceased," he said. "You couldn't bird watch. You couldn't do anything."
Visitors flocked to the refuge over this past weekend, as warm weather arrived in the region after a week of frigid temperatures.
Larry Bell, a Starkville native who's been going to the refuge for roughly 50 years, spent early Sunday afternoon fishing. Bell said his family used the refuge for everything -- hunting, fishing firewood and more -- when he was growing up. He said the reduced staffing wouldn't impact his visits, but lamented the shutdown and said his biggest concern about it is that workers who are forced to miss work receive back pay.
Still, Bell said it was good that the refuge at least remained accessible during the shutdown.
"It's important for the locals and the college students," he said. "It gives them a place to get away."
John and Maxine Hamilton, both of Starkville, visited the refuge with their two dogs Sunday afternoon. Like Bell, the Hamiltons said the staffing reductions wouldn't impact their visits to the refuge, but they both lamented the national affairs that led to the federal shutdown in the first place.
"It's disturbing that you have people in the lawmaking position that cannot compromise and come to terms in running a nation," John said. "It makes you question their ability to even maintain its safety."
Maxine said the refuge is an important place, especially for preserving the country's natural beauty. It's an example of America's abundance, which is something she's realized from growing up in an Army family and in her and John hosting a Chinese student who studied abroad at Mississippi State University.
"We take a lot of the things we have in America for granted," she said.
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