The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers at Lake Allatoona and students at Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy in Acworth were among those affected, along with the Georgia National Guard and other federal operations.
For the first time in 17 years, the U.S. federal government had a partial shutdown of operations on Tuesday, after Congress failed to agree on a budget, affecting an estimated 800,000 workers nationally, including some in Cherokee County.
Gerald Fulton, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers operations manager for Lake Allatoona, said the government shutdown has already impacted Corps of Engineers employees who managed parks and boat ramps around the lake.
“As part of conducting an orderly government shutdown, our staff reported to work this morning, was informed of the government shutdown, and then they were officially furloughed,” Fulton said Tuesday. “So basically, we had four hours to conduct what business we could to try and get an orderly shutdown of the facilities, and then the majority of the staff went home, and there’s just a few remaining staff on board.”
Fulton said out of his usual full staff of 27 employees, 20 were sent home at noon Tuesday.
The remaining employees, including Fulton, who said “critical folks in the powerhouse” and a couple of people in the office continue to work “to maintain essential operations.”
“They are working without pay. … They should get paid when this is over, but they are currently working with the understanding that they will not receive a paycheck until the budget bill is passed,” Fulton said. “I’d say it was one of the saddest days of my career, just to have to deliver the news. There’s a lot of folks worried. They weren’t vocal about it, but I could see it in their faces. … everyone’s wondering, when will they be put back to work? And in the meantime, they have bills coming in they have to pay, they have no income coming in to pay the bills, so it’s a tough situation.”
Along with federal employees, Fulton said many privately contracted workers were furloughed as a result of the shutdown.
“In addition to my staff, all the cleaning and maintenance around the lake, the cleaning and maintenance around all the parks, it’s all operated through a contract,” Fulton said. “Since all the parks are closed, all the contractors that clean and maintain all those parks, all the contractors also had to furlough them. It’s not just the federal employees here, it’s contract employees.”
Federally operated parks and boat ramps were shut- down Tuesday, but Fulton said there are still boat ramps and parks that are open along Allatoona, so the public can still enjoy the lake.
“There are areas on the lake that are operating. I know it’s an inconvenience with the government shutdown, but there are boat ramps and marinas and picnic shelter, there are places on the lake, but it’s through these areas that are non-federal, not federally operated,” Fulton said. “The two (boat ramps) operated by Cherokee County, itself, are Fields Landing Park and Cherokee Mills, then also as far as marinas in Cherokee County, it’s Victoria Harbor and Little River.”
Campers on federal sites are required to vacate the campgrounds by 3 p.m. on Wednesday, and a news release from the Corps of Engineers stated that campers will be refunded for any unused portion of their reservation.
“It’s the great unknown for us right now, that’s kind of what’s bothering folks that went home, they don’t know if they’ll be back to work tomorrow, or next week, or next month,” Fulton said. “I know there’s a lot of nervous folks out there.”
Local school children at Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy may also be affected by the shutdown, according to Cherokee County School District spokeswoman Barbara Jacoby.
“Due to the federal government shutdown, the NASA event is not expected to happen on Thursday at Clark Creek Elementary School STEM Academy,” Jacoby said Tuesday.
Clark Creek had scheduled two sessions on Thursday for fifth-graders to do video conferencing with NASA personnel, but due to the shutdown, the opportunity seems unlikely, Clark Creek Elementary School Principal Dr. Jennifer Scrivner said Tuesday.
“The video conference that we were going to have is called Spacebots. … students had worked on a design project to build a robotic arm and they were going to bring those models with them to the video conference and have the NASA engineers and scientists look at what they’d done and give them feedback on their designs,” Scrivner said.
The robotic arms built by students were supposed to be able to lift a coffee cup, Scrivner said, adding that it would be a shame for students to miss out on the opportunity. With two large video screens, it’s a “very interactive program,” she said.
As a result of the shutdown, as many as 2,000 support staff employees who work with the Georgia National Guard as full-time federal technicians could be out of work until the government passes a spending bill, according to Georgia National Guard Major Gen. Jim Butterworth, reported the Tribune’s news partner, Fox 5 Atlanta.
“Solving those problems on the backs of our team members is not the proper way and truly a very, very difficult thing for our families,” Butterworth said in an interview Monday.
According to the general, the Georgia National Guard could lose about $700 million due to the government shutdown, which would affect employees in every county in the state.
Butterworth assured the county and state of Georgia that the Georgia National Guard would be ready, no matter what happened.
“Americans and Georgians, specifically, can know is that their military is ready and will always be ready,” Butterworth said.