Workers return to FLETC, area national parks
Federal facilities in Coastal Georgia reopened Thursday after being shut down Oct. 1 by Congress.
Hundreds of employees returned to work at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick. Fort Frederica National Monument on St. Simons Island and Cumberland Island National Seashore in Camden County also reopened following the vote by Congress late Wednesday night to fund federal operations through Jan. 1.
President Barack Obama signed the measure after its passage.
The Federal Law Enforcement Training Center in Brunswick, as well as its training facilities in New Mexico and Virginia, called just over1,000 employees back to work. They were among the 800,000 federal employees furloughed nationwide for 16 days while Democrats and Republicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senate debated a budget for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and the status of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Businesses that had contracts with the law enforcement training centers, most of which were suspended during the partial shutdown, are expected to be back on job by Sunday. Some 500 contractors provide services to the three FLETC facilities.
Training of law enforcement students is expected to recommence Monday.
Fort Frederica and Cumberland Island National Seashore were two of the 401 national parks closed during the shutdown.
Ken Estridge was delighted to see Fort Frederica up and running again Thursday. Estridge, 80, and his wife Ann, 77, are tourists from Indiana who have been visiting the fort for over 20 years, but this year was special. They brought their lifelong friends – the Siersdales– to experience the fort.
It was a first visit to St. Simons Island and the historic fort forTom Siersdale, 75, and his wife Kay, 74.
"It’s a beautiful spot," said Ken Estridge. "This is the first time I’ve planned a trip in many years, so it worked out pretty good (that the government reopened)."
They weren’t the only ones visiting the fort on reopening day. Fort Frederica had visitors coming and going all day, said Mary Beth Wester, superintendent of the fort and one of eight employees at the historic site.
"We’re pleased that we can open the gates again," Wester said. "All of my staff is back and eager to get back to work."
When the partial shutdown began just over two weeks ago, it was estimated Fort Frederica would lose up to $800 a day. The monument averages nearly 200 visitors in October.
"The local community has been really supportive," Wester said.
It didn’t take long for tourists to learn Cumberland Island National Seashore was open for business. Island superintendent Fred Boy les said all employees were notified to return to work Thursday morning. He said everyone was happy to be back on the job.
"We all hated this and regretted this deeply," he said of the shutdown.
There wasn’t enough time for the 9 a.m. ferry to run Thursday, but as mall group of campers and day trippers boarded the 11:30 a.m. ferry to the island. Boyles said many people have called to make sure the seashore is open, and the ferry is running again.
While it’s business as usual on the island, the damage has been done to merchants who depend on tourists.
"Many of the local businesses in our local area have been hurt badly," Boyles said. "They can’t get back what they lost."
They would have lost more had the Senate and House rejected the compromise that will provide funding for federal agencies for at least the next three months.
Coastal Georgia’s delegation to Washington was split on its support of the temporary spending plan.
Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and Johnny Isakson, joined 79 other senators in voting for the compromise, which passed 81 to 18. Eighteen Republicans voted against it.
In the House, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1, whose district includes the coast, joined the minority voting against the compromise, which passed285 to 144.
Kingston said he could not bring himself to support the compromise because it failed to address the nation’s long-term spending problem.
"The drama of the government shutdown and the debt limit debate has served as a distraction from the real debate here," Kingston said. "Our national debt is larger than the size of the entire American economy and government borrows 42 cents for every dollar it spends.
"I opposed this proposal because it does nothing to check the growth of government or put our country on a more sustainable path."
At the same time, Kingston said he remains committed to working with Democrats and Republicans to advance reforms that will free future generations from a life indebted to China.
"We must come together to ensure the next three months are used productively so we are not in this position again," he said.
Chambliss applauded the Senate leadership for preventing a default on the nation’s obligations.
"While this is certainly not the deal Republicans hoped for, it is the best deal we could negotiate under the circumstances," Chambliss said. "I agree with my fellow Republicans and the American people that Obamacare is a deeply flawed and damaging law. I remain as committed a sever to dismantling Obamacare before it has a chance to further damage our economy."
However, Chambliss added, "defunding Obamacare in the (Continuing Resolution) was never a realistic goal. Republicans control only one-half of one-third of the federal government, and the president has the power to veto. Shutting down the government only placed undue stress on Americans and on the economy, and lost Republicans advantage to negotiate on the debt ceiling."
Isakson said the past three weeks are a wake-up call.
"It’s time that Congress gets back to doing our job of budgeting, appropriating and conducting oversight to address our unsustainable debt and deficits," Isakson said. "That’s why I have introduced a bipartisan bill, the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, with Sen. (Jeanne) Shaheen that would reform our nation’s broken budget process and restore fiscal discipline."
Shaheen is a New Hampshire Democrat.
• Political struggles still lay ahead despite resolution