What the federal shutdown means locally

The effects of federal agencies closed due to the partial government shutdown caused a wave of issues for those living in San Juan County. Border control agents have been working without pay, and other federal workers, like those who work for the National Park Service at American Camp and English Camp, have been unable to work.

Other locals may also find themselves impacted in unanticipated ways.


Rep. Rick Larson’s community liaison Laura Gelwicks attended the San Juan County Council meeting on Jan. 15 to hear specific needs and concerns from the county, as well as provide a brief update on what Larson will be doing in Congress.

“He will be devoting 100 percent of his time toward working to reopen the government,” she told the council.

“Our department has not been impacted yet,” Mark Thompkins, director of Health and Community Services, told the council.

Funding for nutritional programs such as WIC, or Women Infants and Children, has already been dispersed and will last through the end of February or beginning of March. If the government shutdown lasts longer than that, close to 200 San Juan County citizens could be affected. The jobs of nurses, nutritionists and others that are funded through federal grants could also face issues.

To preempt a potential crisis, councilman Rick Hughes made a motion to work with Thompkins and analyze the exact programs and funding dollars in order to brainstorm how the county can step up and fill in any potential gaps.

Affordable housing

Homes for Islanders, a local affordable housing nonprofit, has to rely on its own money in order to keep its current construction projects on schedule. The group will be reimbursed by the United States Department of Agriculture according to Bill Gendron, a founding member, and Executive Director Justin Roche. They are hoping the shutdown does not last through March when funds could run out. Across the nation, many similar organizations dependent on USDA grants have had to temporarily close, so in comparison, they consider themselves lucky.

Loans for islanders applying to buy homes through the Home Trust have been delayed while the USDA is shut down, said Executive Director David Gow.

“Our prospective buyers with pending mortgages applications are in limbo. So long as the government is shut down, funds we had been expecting will not be available for our construction program, or operations,” he said.

National Parks and Federal lands

The county announced it will help transfer garbage from American Camp to English Camp, which is the central collection site for San Juan Sanitation. The time and cost to the county have yet to be determined.

So far, volunteers have quietly been doing this all on their own, Mike Thomas, San Juan County manager, told the council on Jan. 14. Stories about national parks being trashed during the shutdown have not, as of yet, been the case at the San Juan Islands National Monument.

Kendra Smith, environmental resource manager at San Juan County Public Works, requested to the Journal that people remain diligent about packing out their trash, including cleaning up after your dog.

Due to National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration being closed, the nonprofit organization Wolf Hollow, a wildlife rehabilitation center, is anxiously awaiting grant money for a digital X-ray machine. While not critical, the machine does not use chemicals, is faster and less stressful on the animals, and it will also take up less space, according to Executive Director Chanda Stone.

“We are nowhere near as affected as people who are not getting a paycheck,” she clarified.

The Whale Museum’s Soundwatch Program has also been slightly affected.

“Soundwatch is supported by federal grants and contracts that come through NOAA,” Taylor Shedd, Soundwatch coordinator, explained. “During the shutdown, we can not bill out for services or items, and the government isn’t a fan of reimbursing people, so we are in a funny spot.”

Shedd added that the program has utilized other resources and is still fully functioning. Soundwatch will still be dispersing Be Whale Wise guidelines at the Seattle Boat Show Jan. 25, as it has for years.

“I know our colleagues at NOAA want nothing more than to go back to work and do their job that they love, and makes our country great,” he said.