Will federal budget cuts hit Vail Valley? | VailDaily.com

Will federal budget cuts hit Vail Valley?

EAGLE COUNTY, Colorado – When Congress and President Barack Obama last week failed to cut yet another budget deal, the result was a series of automatic federal funding cuts. Some of those cuts may be felt locally.

The biggest impact may be seen on federal lands, since more than 70 percent of the county is owned by the feds and managed by either the U.S. Forest Service or the Bureau of Land Management.

Most of the specific cuts haven’t yet been defined, and White River National Forest Supervisor Scott Fitzwilliams referred a request for information to the regional office in Denver.

A query there brought a response from a spokeswoman who e-mailed that the potential cuts aren’t final, particularly regarding specific projects. But the spokeswoman’s e-mail statement did lay out a general statement about the potential budget cuts:

“The Forest Service will do everything it can to mitigate sequestration impacts to firefighting efforts and protect communities,” the statement read. “However, the 5.2 percent reduction caused by sequestration will reduce the agency’s initial attack capability which will increase the probability of larger, costlier fires. The reduction of funds could result in 500 fewer firefighters and 50-70 fewer available engines, and will impact aviation assets. Severe fire conditions are expected for the season ahead, but the Forest Service will continue to work with state, local and interagency partners to provide firefighting resources to high risk locations despite a reduction of funds.

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“Impacts on cuts in recreation at specific forests and grasslands are still being determined,” the statement continued. “We do estimate, however, that there will be an across-the-board closure of 670 campgrounds, trailheads and picnic sites around the country in peak use season in the spring and summer but we are still determining which, exactly, those areas will be.”

Federal funding also has a big presence at the Eagle County Regional Airport. There, facility manager Greg Phillips said it’s still somewhat too early to say which budget cuts might hit the local airport. But, he added, the cuts start April 1, the same day the airport’s winter flight schedule ends.

“We know they’re going to be closing towers, but not ours,” Phillips said.

Phillips added service could be reduced at Transportation Security Agency stations at the commercial terminal. Man-hours might be cut at the control tower, too, although Phillips said he doesn’t think tower operations will be affected by the cuts.

“I think our spring and summer flights will be OK,” Phillips said.

Business Editor Scott N. Miller can be reached at 970-748-2930 or smiller@vaildaily.com.

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