NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

October 2, 2013

No refuge here

Wildlife sanctuary, state park closed by federal shutdown

Staff Reports
Newburyport Daily News

---- — PLUM ISLAND — Birdwatchers and beachwalkers were out of luck yesterday as the federal government shutdown has shuttered the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge.

And by way of geography, a popular state park — Sandy Point State Reservation — has also fallen victim to the shutdown.

The public access gate at the Plum Island refuge was locked yesterday, as a slow parade of motorists pulled up, read the sign announcing the closure, then moved on. The only employees seen at the refuge were law enforcement patrols.

The refuge’s visitor center on Plum Island Turnpike was also closed.

It was the same across the nation — every wildlife refuge is closed to the public, as well as national parks. Employees have been placed on furlough while a federal budget plan remains stalled in Congress. Federal parks and wildlife refuges will remain closed until the budget deal is worked out.

Among those turned away at the Parker River National Wildlife Refuge gates yesterday were students from the Newburyport-based River Valley Charter School. Some 15 middle school students were on a field trip to study erosion at Sandy Point, located at the southernmost tip of Plum Island.

To access Sandy Point, visitors must travel down a 6-mile road through the federal refuge. The refuge closure meant that access to the state park, which has about 50 parking spaces, was also closed.

Instead, the students headed north to the city-owned Plum Island Point and the lesson plan was adjusted, said teacher Heather Reusse.

“It also turned into a bit of a civics lesson,” she said, as teachers tried to explain why the refuge was closed, and what a government shutdown meant without alarming the students.

“There were a lot of questions about what a shutdown means,” she said.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, said there are concerns about the fallout to other federal programs, such as federally backed first-time homeowner loans. The government plans to continue processing the loans, but with a much reduced staff.

Likewise, O’Connor Ives expressed concern for veterans disability benefits. According to the Washington Post, money to pay for veterans disability and pension benefits will run out by the end of October.

Today marks the second day of the shutdown of the federal government, which has shuttered dozens of federal agencies that are considered to be non-essential, and has sent thousands of federal workers home.

According to the Statehouse News Service, economists are reporting that the political deadlock at the federal level is eroding confidence in the state’s economic recovery.

Associated Industries of Massachusetts reported yesterday that its employer confidence index checked in at 51.5 in September and has hovered in the neutral zone for a year.

“We are not seeing the sustained positive employer confidence that is required to spur job creation and bring down the unemployment rate — which has actually ticked up,” Raymond Torto, chair of AIM’s Board of Economic Advisors, said in a statement.

The state’s rising unemployment rate held at 7.2 percent in August, a hair below the nation’s 7.3 percent unemployment rate. An updated national unemployment rate is due out on Friday.

Massachusetts employers are becoming less reactive to “crises” stemming from political deadlock in Washington, D.C., Torto said, noting employers responded negatively to debt ceiling and fiscal cliff developments, but are not reacting similarly to the budget deadlock.

“The present deadlock over the federal budget and debt ceiling is not eliciting a similar response, although economists on both sides of the political divide are using words like ‘catastrophic’ to describe the potential effects of a government shutdown,” he said. “Instead of responses to specific threats — which have not so far become realities — there is a consistently negative assessment of national conditions.”