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Florida Keys News - Islamorada/KL Free Press
Wednesday, October 9, 2013
Federal shutdown hits home in multiple ways

FLORIDA KEYS -- While the Florida Bay closure likely has the most widespread impact on the island chain, the federal government shutdown has rippled through Monroe County in other ways.

The offices of the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary were shuttered last week, meaning that everything from buoy maintenance, to coral research, to preparation for a scheduled Oct. 15 Islamorada Sanctuary Advisory Council meeting on the controversial topic of new fishing restrictions didn't get done.

Reached by the Free Press, sanctuary director Sean Morton said he was on furlough and not allowed to say exactly how the shutdown affected the sanctuary.

The shutdown began Tuesday, Oct. 1, when House Republicans refused to approve new spending unless Obamacare is defunded. The White House has rebuked their demand.

Operations of an underwater laboratory owned by NOAA will go on as usual throughout the shutdown, according to Jim Fourqurean, a Florida International University professor who runs the Aquarius Reef Base off Key Largo.

The university has money from federal grants to continue operating.

"What it is doing is slowing down talks with NOAA [about future grants]," Fourqurean said. "The people we need to talk to aren't working right now."

Due to the shutdown, researchers based at Everglades National Park's Florida Bay Interagency Science Center in Key Largo couldn't report to work, even though some of the scientists there work for universities and not the federal government. Everglades National Park has also postponed a hiring day it had planned for Flamingo workers for the upcoming winter season.

National Wildlife Refuges in the Keys, including the key deer preserve on Big Pine Key and the crocodile refuge in Key Largo, are closed. The Free Press was unable to confirm whether a cleanup scheduled for this month at the Key Largo refuge is still a go. Phone numbers left for information on the cleanup are not being monitored during the shutdown.

Also furloughed were U.S. Geological Survey workers tasked with fighting the spread of invasive Burmese pythons and Argentine tegu lizards from the mainland to the Florida Keys.

Those trying to reach the Internal Revenue Service will have to wait until the shutdown ends.

Though Oct. 15 remains the filing deadline for those who obtained tax extensions in April, IRS agents aren't available to take questions.

Marathon accountant Steve Pribramsky said a bigger problem for his clients is that refunds aren't being sent during the closure.

"Some people are counting on that money for Christmas, and who knows when they're going to get it," he said. "If the shutdown ends, who knows when they'll be sent. There will be a tremendous backlog."

The IRS closure is also stymieing the ability of lenders to finalize home mortgages.

The problem, explained Mike Kiraly, who handles home mortgages for Centennial Bank in Marathon, is that banks have to verify the tax return information of clients with the IRS, as well as Social Security numbers.

Until that is done, Kirlay said, Centennial can't close a loan.

"It's going to back everything up," he said of the shutdown.

Even some seasonal Key Largo residents have found themselves affected by the shutdown.

Joe Parker and wife Dolly were kicked out of their campground at Great Smokey Mountains National Park.

The Sexton Cove couple were a bit distraught while talking to the Free Press last week from a private campground.

"This is just terrible," Joe Parker said. "I can't believe they won't figure this out."

rsilk@keysnews.com

jgore@keysnews.com

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