A skeleton crew of National Park Service workers is staffing emergency functions in Olympic National Park during a partial federal shutdown that will have an increasingly harmful impact on employees, acting Superintendent Lee Taylor said Thursday, Jan. 10 — on Day 20 of the stoppage.
The more than 100 federal workers who will not receive paychecks today are among more than 25,000 Park Service employees nationwide deemed either essential, and therefore working, or furloughed, and not working, during the shutdown.
The January 2019 National Park Service Contingency Plan outlines Park Service operations during the shutdown (https://tinyurl.com/PDN-ServicePlan).
Taylor said about 20 Olympic National Park staff are continuing full-time duties in law enforcement to provide public safety services and in utilities to maintain water and sewer systems.
The remainder have been furloughed.
“We have the minimum number we need to sustain those emergency functions,” said Taylor, who is not working full time.
The employees who are working but not getting paid will receive back wages once the shutdown ends, Taylor said. Those who are working can’t apply for benefits.
Employees not required to work who were furloughed may or may not get paid their lost wages, Taylor said, adding some have applied for unemployment compensation that will have to get paid back if they receive back wages.
Taylor stays in touch with furloughed workers through a variety of methods not including government email, which is shut down.
She is getting paid for the hours she works but does not know if she will get paid for hours she doesn’t work.
“Fortunately, I have enough resources to carry me through one paycheck,” said Taylor, who is her household’s sole wage earner.
“There are certainly people who cannot easily make it through one missed paycheck.
“I don’t think many people at all can sustain a loss of two paychecks without having significant consequences for them and their family.”
“It’s not as stressful to me as with some individuals.
“The stress that I feel as acting superintendent of the park is, I worry about the hundred-plus people who work for me who are not getting paid.”
The Park Service was given the authority to use fees already collected to bring back enough workers “to address any areas where we have trash building up or problems with human waste because of the closed rest rooms,” Taylor added.
Use of those fees for such activities as trash cleanup at Ruby Beach must be approved by higher-level National Park Service officials, which may not occur until next week, she said.
Most park toilet facilities are closed except some in remote park locations, she said.
The Park Service is hamstrung in paying employees for work performed in 2019 because 2019 funding has not been appropriated, and expenditures cannot be made over and above the amount appropriated according to the 1884 Antideficiency Act, she said.
“It makes it illegal to spend any funds when we are in a situation where we do not have any appropriated funding,” she said, “unless it has to do with public safety and emergency services.”
Kalaloch Lodge continues to be open, while Lake Crescent Lodge is closed because the regular season has ended, Taylor said.
The road to Rialto Beach is closed due to the inability to pay workers to clear debris from severe December windstorms, she said.
“For us, clearly the biggest impact for Olympic National Park has been that Hurricane Ridge Road has remained closed and will continue to be closed until we are funded again,” she said.
“It’s not possible for us to have that open to the public safely with only emergency staffing,” Taylor said.
“We would have to pay snowplow operators, and we’re not authorized to do that under the Antideficiency Act.”
Having to close Hurricane Ridge Road is “a heartbreaker,” she said.
“Obviously, there are so many local families that would have been going up and playing in the snow, particularly over the winter holiday break.”
Park Superintendent Sarah Creachbaum is on special assignment in San Francisco as acting deputy director for the Park Service’s Pacific West Region.
Creachbaum is due back in early February, Taylor said.
Paul Gottlieb is a Senior Staff Writer with the Olympic Peninsula News Group, which is composed of Sound Publishing newspapers Peninsula Daily News, Sequim Gazette and Forks Forum. He can be reached at 360-452-2345, ext. 55650, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.