Workers return to FLETC, area national parks
Federal facilities in Coastal Georgia reopened Thursday after beingshut down Oct. 1 by Congress.
Hundreds of employees returned to work at the Federal LawEnforcement Training Center in Brunswick. Fort Frederica NationalMonument on St. Simons Island and Cumberland Island National Seashorein Camden County also reopened following the vote by Congress lateWednesday 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 asits training facilities in New Mexico and Virginia, called just over1,000 employees back to work. They were among the 800,000 federalemployees furloughed nationwide for 16 days while Democrats andRepublicans in the U.S. House of Representatives and U.S. Senatedebated a budget for the new fiscal year that began Oct. 1 and thestatus of the Affordable Health Care Act.
Businesses that had contracts with the law enforcement trainingcenters, most of which were suspended during the partial shutdown, areexpected to be back on job by Sunday. Some 500 contractors provideservices to the three FLETC facilities.
Training of law enforcement students is expected to recommenceMonday.
Fort Frederica and Cumberland Island National Seashore were two ofthe 401 national parks closed during the shutdown.
Ken Estridge was delighted to see Fort Frederica up and runningagain Thursday. Estridge, 80, and his wife Ann, 77, are tourists fromIndiana who have been visiting the fort for over 20 years, but thisyear 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 timeI’ve planned a trip in many years, so it worked out pretty good (thatthe government reopened)."
They weren’t the only ones visiting the fort on reopening day. FortFrederica had visitors coming and going all day, said Mary Beth Wester,superintendent of the fort and one of eight employees at the historicsite.
"We’re pleased that we can open the gates again," Wester said. "Allof my staff is back and eager to get back to work."
When the partial shutdown began just over two weeks ago, it wasestimated Fort Frederica would lose up to $800 a day. The monumentaverages 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 NationalSeashore was open for business.Island superintendent Fred Boy les saidall employees were notified to return to work Thursday morning. He saideveryone was happy to be back on the job.
"We all hated this and regretted this deeply," he said of theshutdown.
There wasn’t enough time for the 9 a.m. ferry to run Thursday, but asmall group of campers and day trippers boarded the 11:30 a.m. ferry tothe island. Boyles said many people have called to make sure theseashore is open, and the ferry is running again.
While it’s business as usual on the island, the damage has been doneto merchants who depend on tourists.
"Many of the local businesses in our local area have been hurtbadly," Boyles said. "They can’t get back what they lost."
They would have lost more had the Senate and House rejected thecompromise that will provide funding for federal agencies for at leastthe next three months.
Coastal Georgia’s delegation to Washington was split on its supportof the temporary spending plan.
Georgia’s two Republican senators, Saxby Chambliss and JohnnyIsakson, joined 79 other senators in voting for the compromise, whichpassed 81 to 18. Eighteen Republicans voted against it.
In the House, Rep. Jack Kingston, R-1, whose district includes thecoast, joined the minority voting against the compromise, which passed285 to 144.
Kingston said he could not bring himself to support the compromisebecause it failed to address the nation’s long-term spendingproblem.
"The drama of the government shutdown and the debt limit debate hasserved as a distraction from the real debate here," Kingston said. "Ournational debt is larger than the size of the entire American economyand government borrows 42 cents for every dollar it spends.
"I opposed this proposal because it does nothing to check the growthof government or put our country on a more sustainable path."
At the same time, Kingston said he remains committed to working withDemocrats and Republicans to advance reforms that will free futuregenerations from a life indebted to China.
"We must come together to ensure the next three months are usedproductively so we are not in this position again," he said.
Chambliss applauded the Senate leadership for preventing a defaulton the nation’s obligations.
"While this is certainly not the deal Republicans hoped for, it isthe best deal we could negotiate under the circumstances," Chamblisssaid. "I agree with my fellow Republicans and the American people thatObamacare is a deeply flawed and damaging law. I remain as committed asever to dismantling Obamacare before it has a chance to further damageour economy."
However, Chambliss added, "defunding Obamacare in the (ContinuingResolution) was never a realistic goal. Republicans control onlyone-half of one-third of the federal government, and the president hasthe power to veto. Shutting down the government only placed unduestress on Americans and on the economy, and lost Republicans advantageto 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 unsustainabledebt and deficits," Isakson said. "That’s why I have introduced abipartisan bill, the Biennial Budgeting and Appropriations Act, withSen. (Jeanne) Shaheen that would reform our nation’s broken budgetprocess and restore fiscal discipline."
Shaheen is a New Hampshire Democrat.
• Political struggles still lay ahead despite resolution