How a looming government shutdown will impact Eagle County

Even with a looming federal shutdown, the High Altitude Aviation Training Site at the Eagle County Regional Airport will be available to protect life and property in emergencies.
Chris Dillmann | Vail Daily archive

An Oct. 1 federal shutdown looks pretty likely. That shutdown and its political machinations will generate national headlines, of course, but there will be local impacts.

Perhaps the most serious of those impacts is the prospect of a wildfire erupting on federal land. Conditions are currently quite dry in the county’s backcountry. That danger is compounded as thousands of hunters will arrive over the next several weeks.

Eagle County Community Wildfire Mitigation Manager Eric Lovgren said while federal resources may be harder to come by, local and regional firefighters are still on the job.

Hotshot crews and heavy air support may not be available, Lovgren said, adding that the state these days owns some firefighting aircraft.

What about the feds?

The U.S. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management together control almost 80% of the land in Eagle County. Questions about how those agencies will manage during hunting season and wildfire response were referred to public information officers higher up the information chain.

More information will likely come if the government does shut down Oct. 1, and the White House will have an informational website available.

Contractors brought into fires may see delayed payments, though, and some project work may be disrupted.

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Still, “We won’t let fires burn unchecked,” Lovgren said.

The Colorado National Guard is part of the U.S. Department of Defense but operates under the orders of the state’s governor. In an email, National Guard spokesperson Sgt. Joseph VonNida said military units in a shutdown are still ready for “operations which maintain national security or provide protection of life and property.”

The National Guard’s High Altitude Aviation Training Site at the Eagle County Regional Airport often responds to local needs, from search and rescue to firefighting. Emergency response won’t be affected by a potential shutdown, VonNida said in a phone conversation.

On a day-to-day basis, a number of county residents depend on some form of federal aid. Megan Burch, Director of the Eagle County Department of Human Services, wrote in an email that the U.S. Department of Agriculture changed some of its accounting programs to ensure benefits through October through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

Burch noted that federal benefits will stop through the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program. But, she added, state reserves and local “maintenance of effort” funds should be able to get that program through October.

Other programs administered through that county department, including Medicaid — health care for low-income individuals and families — have funds appropriated. Those programs will only be affected “if the shutdown lasts for a historic length of time.”

Shutdowns can be lengthy. The most recent shutdown, from Dec. 22, 2018 to Jan.25, 2019, was the longest in U.S. history. That meant many federal employees went without pay for a month.

In the past couple of shutdowns, Alpine Bank offered no-interest loans to qualifying federal employees.

Michael Brown, Alpine’s regional president, said if a shutdown comes, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach, the bank will work on a case-by-case basis with federal employees — both existing and new customers.

Brown said with the prior programs, needs varied, and some borrowers needed more than one or two paychecks. Others didn’t need as much.

“We’ll work out terms with applicants,” Brown said. Still, he said, he expects to see interest in the program.

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In the last shutdown, “We had a fair amount of interest in parts of the state that had more federal offices and workers,” Brown said.

Brown noted, “We find very quickly that we’re not immune in Colorado from what goes on in Washington D.C. It affects our communities.”

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