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Florida Keys News
Wednesday, October 2, 2013
Dry Tortugas, Everglades parks shuttered

If you want to visit the Dry Tortugas National Park later this week, but find it closed -- blame Congress.

The much-visited island fortress and surrounding waters about 68 miles west of Key West, as well as Everglades National Park on the mainland, were officially shuttered Tuesday evening. Campers at both parks were given 48 hours to leave due to the federal government shutdown, said parks spokeswoman Linda Fryer.

"The last seaplanes and boats out will be [today]," Fryer said.

Of the total 283 employees who operate both parks, 243 will be furloughed, she added.

"Some staff, such as law enforcement and maintenance, will remain on, but the majority will be on furlough indefinitely," Fryer said.

The National Park Service sent out a press release Tuesday stating: "All programs are canceled and permits issued for special events on park grounds nationwide are rescinded. Park visitors in all overnight campgrounds and lodges have been given until no later than 6 p.m. Thursday to make other arrangements and leave the park."

Florida parks such as Fort Zachary Taylor State Park in Key West, Bahia Honda State Park at Mile Marker 37, Curry Hammock State Park near Marathon and John Pennekamp Coral Reef State Park in Key Largo will remain open.

The free Eco-Discovery Center museum in Truman Annex was also closed and most of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary staff furloughed as well, said sanctuary Superintendent Sean Morton.

National Atmospheric and Oceanic Administration law enforcement officers are still working, but nearly everyone else was sent home Tuesday.

"Until Congress passes an appropriations bill, we are officially closed," Morton said.

The shutdown also furloughed many civilian employees at Naval Air Station Key West and the Coast Guard, though both organizations continued to operate at a normal pace Tuesday.

"Air operations have not been impacted thus far," said NAS Key West commander Capt. Steven McAlearney. "If the shutdown continues for a week or more, we will have to address potential logistical issues, as those programs are executed almost exclusively by government civilian employees. Non-appropriated fund activities, such as lodging and child and youth programs and the Navy Exchange, will remain open, as those activities are self-supporting."

Residents and boaters will probably not notice any changes in Coast Guard patrols.

"The pace of our operations will not change," said spokesman Ensign Peter Bermont. "We do have some civilian employees who were furloughed, so hopefully it will be resolved quickly."

The federal courthouse, 301 Simonton St., will remain open, as will post offices.

The countersmuggling Joint Interagency Task Force South, which comprises military and civilian law enforcement, will also remain on duty, said spokeswoman Jody Draves.

The shutdown occurred because the Republican-controlled House of Representatives passed a spending bill that keeps current spending levels without funding for The Affordable Healthcare Act, aka Obamacare, while the Democratic Senate wants the program fully funded.

"We are playing a dangerous game with our economy and the livelihoods of the American people," U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, D-South Fla., said in an email to The Citizen.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., echoed similar statements in an email to media Tuesday.

"This is doing harm to individuals and to the country," Nelson said. "For example, 72 percent of all the people in our intelligence agencies, such as the CIA, are furloughed."

alinhardt@keysnews.com

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