The partial government shutdown that began Saturday will curtail services for Acadia National Park visitors and pinch the wallets of some federal employees but is not expected to cause major disruptions in Maine – for now, at least.
Lawmakers on Capitol Hill and President Trump were unable to resolve the impasse on Saturday affecting nine federal agencies, meaning the partial shutdown will continue through the holiday until at least midweek. The shutdown is not anticipated to impact airport security, mail delivery or weather forecasting headed into the Christmas crunch but could affect the visitor experience at Acadia and other national sites in Maine and around the country.
All federal employees at Acadia, except some park rangers, were furloughed as of midnight Friday. While Acadia will “remain as accessible as possible” during the shutdown, roads and parking lots will not be plowed, visitor services will be shut down and restrooms will be closed.
Park spokeswoman Christie Anastasia said Acadia will be open to hikers, skiers and others but virtually no services will be available. Park rangers will continue to patrol the park and respond to 911 calls, however.
“The guidance we have been given thus far is going to be very similar to the very short shutdown we had in January,” Anastasia said shortly before her furlough went into effect Saturday morning.
Visitors can still walk, ski and hike at Acadia. Sections of Park Loop Road normally open this time of year will remain open, including Ocean Drive, Sieur de Monts and access to Jordan Pond area, according to Anastasia. These sections will close to vehicles if there are hazardous conditions. Acadia parking lots normally open in winter will remain open but will not be plowed if it snows. The Schoodic Loop will remain open and plowed to allow employees access to housing.
Carriage roads will remain open, but they will not be groomed for skiing because volunteer grooming services offered by Friends of Acadia cannot continue during a shutdown.
Friends of Acadia President David MacDonald said he hoped officials in Washington “can find a way to step away from the recent cycle of impasse, shutdown and eventual compromise” that leads to public confusion and burdens federal employees.
“Even though it is much quieter here at Acadia compared to just a few weeks ago, a government shutdown is never good news for our national parks,” MacDonald said in a statement. “All through the year, park staff are at work preserving and protecting park resources, and Friends of Acadia hates to see these professionals sidelined by a shutdown, knowing that Acadia is already underfunded and understaffed.”
Overall, the partial government shutdown is not expected to have major effects in Maine, where there are relatively few federal employees and agencies.
While last January’s shutdown affected the entire federal government, this time around about three-quarters of the government is funded through next September. The latest shutdown affects the State, Justice, Treasury, Transportation and Homeland Security departments and about 800,000 federal workers. The full effect probably won’t be felt until Wednesday, after the federal four-day holiday weekend that began Saturday.
The shutdown will not affect the U.S. Postal Service, airports and flights, Amtrak, most U.S. Customs and Border Patrol services or the National Weather Service.
Unlike during the three-day shutdown last January, many federal offices and services will continue to operate in Maine.
For instance, operations at Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – two of Maine’s largest employers – are not expected to be affected because the Defense Department is among the agencies that have already been funded. The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs is likewise not affected by the shutdown.
Post offices will remain open – except for the holiday – and mail service will also continue.
“Because we are funded by the sale of our own products, and not by tax dollars, we will not be affected,” Steve Doherty, spokesman for the postal service in Boston, said on Friday.
While many U.S. Department of Agriculture offices are closed, administration of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – also known as food stamps – as well as other nutritional programs and food inspections will continue during the shutdown. That could change if the shutdown drags on, however, because food stamps and other nutrition programs heavily utilized in Maine are relying on available funds.
State officials are also monitoring the situation but do not anticipate losing state employees whose positions are funded by the federal government.
Julie Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for Gov. Paul LePage, said Friday that most state agencies receive lump sum payments for the year from the federal government or could tap into funds carried over from previous years in the event of an extended shutdown.
“Since this would only be a partial federal shutdown, most federally funded state programs won’t be affected at all,” Rabinowitz said in an email. “The vast majority of state employees – even those who are paid via federally funded grants – will NOT be affected even if this extended more than the length of time the two prior shutdowns have lasted during the time the LePage Administration has been in office.”
The shutdown at midnight Friday resulted in about 70 staff members at Acadia National Park being furloughed, Anastasia said. Neither they nor the park rangers are being paid, although during previous government shutdowns furloughed employees did receive back pay once the government reopened.
Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument had already been largely shut down for the winter in November but is accessible on skis and snowmobiles. Tim Hudson, the monument superintendent and sole employee, is on furlough. The snowmobile trails will continue to be maintained by three snowmobile clubs but they do not normally start grooming the trails until after Jan. 1.
Members of Maine’s congressional delegation were already back in the state or headed home on Saturday after it was clear there would be no deal.
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, returned to Maine on Saturday but said she remains “in close touch with my colleagues, exploring ways to end this impasse.”
“There is absolutely no excuse for this partial government shutdown,” Collins said in a statement. “Even this partial shutdown represents the ultimate failure to govern – and it’s why I have always opposed shutdowns, regardless of which party controls Congress or the White House.”