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Local offices were ready for shutdown

File photo — The William Johnson house would have closed indefinitely had the federal government shutdown.

NATCHEZ — As the clock ticked down Friday, federal employees in the Miss-Lou spent the day in limbo, forced to make plans for a shutdown and what it would mean locally.

Employees at the Natchez National Historical Park and St. Catherine Creek Wildlife Refuge were among those preparing to go home without pay.

Parks Superintendent Kathleen Jenkins said a shutdown would have meant the closure of Melrose and the William Johnson House.

“If there’s no appropriation, we can’t incur the expense of paying staff or people to be there,” Jenkins said.

NPS offices inside the Natchez Visitor Reception Center would be closed, but the visitor’s center would stay open, Jenkins said.

Of the approximately 25 employees and a number of volunteers staff members at the local park service, only some security personnel would report to work if the government had shut down, she said.

Jenkins said she had two conference calls with a designated coordinator of the shutdown this week at the NPS regional office in Atlanta.

Jenkins has worked for NPS for 18 years and has experienced potential shutdowns before.

“You don’t get used to this, thank goodness, but its part of the process,” she said.

Jenkins said preservation work ongoing at Melrose would have halted in the case of a shutdown.

“It’s sort of a minefield negotiation of what’s allowed and what’s not,” Jenkins said.

St. Catherine Creek National Wildlife Refuge Manager Bob Strader was preparing Friday to send all but himself and one security officer home.

Bayou Cocodrie near Ferriday and Cat Island in St. Francisville, La., would also have closed, Strader said.

Strader said he was instructed to keep the refuge and its 11 employees updated on the status of a shutdown via the U.S. Department of the Interior website.

“There’s instructions on top of instructions,” Strader said.

He said cell phones and laptops of employees who would have be furloughed would be locked up at the office during the shutdown.

“The biggest thing for our employees is not knowing; they don’t know if they (will) come on work Monday or if they will get paid on days off,” Strader said.

“(Employees) are kind of anxious about the potential shut down.”

The Vidalia office of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers was in the same boat Friday.

Public Affairs and communications officer for the Vicksburg District Kavanaugh Breazeale said plans were made in preparation for the shutdown since the Corps is a part of the U.S. Department of Defense.

“We recently had a staff meeting to determine what avenues we would take,” he said. “During a shutdown, we would continue to go forward with emergency essential personnel employees only.”

Breazeale said these emergency essential employees would consists of positions like lock and damn operators and hydro power plant operators.

Breazeale said the Corps’ Vicksburg District — which includes the Vidalia office — employs approximately 1,100 people in the 68,000 square miles over Arkansas, Mississippi and Louisiana, and the government shutdown would have reduced that number greatly.

“Very few of those 1,100 employees are considered essential,” he said.

Breazeale said the district was still working out the details of exactly how many employees would be around in the case of a shutdown.

Corps offices all over the district, including the one in Vidalia, would be closed, but emergency employees would be at the offices to provide services, Breazele said.

Natchez Trace Parkway Superintendent Cam Sholly said the Trace would remain open to drivers with slightly scaled down law enforcement patrol during the shutdown.

Picnic areas, campgrounds and the four visitors centers will be closed, Sholly said.

“We will scale back to a degree who is working, but there will still be a satisfactory public safety presence,” Sholly said.

Sholly said approximately 130-150 engineers, technical experts, those who process permits and other full-time employees will be furloughed.

The U.S. Postal Service would not be affected by the federal shutdown as far as regular services, said the Jackson post office’s Consumer Affairs Manager Doug Kyle.

The postal service would, however, stop taking applications for passports, and today’s national U.S. Passport Day was canceled Friday because of the potential of a shutdown, Kyle said.

“Otherwise, everything else is business as usual because the postal service is under a different funding system,” Kyle said.

Kyle said the post office operates from postage stamps and other retail sales and fees.

At the U.S. Coast Guard, essential employees that would continue their jobs during the shutdown include search and rescue, port and homeland security law enforcement and environmental response employees, said Lt. J.G. Ryan Gomez, public information officer at the Coast Guard’s Vicksburg station.

Gomez said a standard plan for federal shutdowns has been in place since 1980, but that it is consistently updated.

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