North Bend Ranger Station would close under federal shutdown

Twenty-five employees at the North Bend Ranger Station are waiting for word this afternoon about whether they will start an unpaid furlough Saturday as part of a federal shutdown.

Prior to a 1 p.m conference call on ways to ensure an orderly shutdown, District Ranger Jim Franzel told the Record that office and maintenance personnel would be affected if the U.S. Congress fails to reach a budget agreement Friday, April 7.

According to a USDA official who e-mailed the Record, National Forest System recreation sites which require a Forest Service employee to stay open would be closed to the public. The public will still have access to trails and campground, and two essential law-enforcement officers will remain on duty in the local region of the Mt. Baker-Snoqualmie National Forest. Fire suppression efforts will also be funded.

Otherwise, "we're not supposed to come in at all," Franzel said. "Our computers will shut down after work today."

Any active contracts for forest or station projects by outside agencies will go into a suspended state. Franzel said his station doesn't have very many outstanding contracts. One local project, a North Bend sewer connector at the station, just finished.

Franzel went through the 1996 shutdown in Alaska's Tongass National Forest. He remembers that the last one happened in winter, and "it wasn't all that disruptive."

Now, "We're in a transition from winter to summer sports," Franzel said. At snow parks, employees won't be around to open gates and trailheads as the snow line moves up. In snow-free areas, staff won't be available to help volunteer groups train and maintain trails.

While there are roughly six volunteers for every one paid federal employee, the departure of paid staff will make a difference. Some programs just can't happen without staff support, Franzel said.

Around the Valley, a shutdown is not expected to have much impact on cities or school districts, at least not right away.

North Bend and Snoqualmie recently completed federally funded redevelopment projects, such as the North Bend Park and Ride, but those jobs are done.

"While the city may not be affected in the short term, it will impact citizens who may lose access to obtaining passports, entering national parks, timely IRS refunds,  and other federal services we all are accustomed to having," North Bend City Clerk Cheryl Proffitt-Schmidt told the Record.

"There is not a concern if there would be a brief shutdown," said Snoqualmie Schools spokeswoman Carolyn Malcom. "If a shutdown were to extend for a lengthy period of time, however, that might present a different situation."

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