Army Corps would fight Minnesota floods in shutdown

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MINNEAPOLIS (AP) — Most federal employees in Minnesota would be furloughed in the event of a government shutdown, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers — charged with responding to flooding around the state — will keep working.

About 200 employees in the St. Paul district would keep trying to fight the flooding and run locks and dams and river navigation systems, spokesman Mark Davidson said Thursday. There are around 700 employees in the district altogether.

A temporary shutdown could occur if Congress fails to reach an agreement on a spending bill this week, although it's unclear how long that would last. There have been a handful of federal shutdowns, most recently in 1996.

Minnesotans wouldn't feel the effects of a shutdown right away, said Raymond Morris, executive director of the Federal Executive Board of Minnesota. But since federal agencies do their work from periodic grants, funding would come to a halt if the shutdown were to persist for a long time.

"If it went on for any length of time, those impacts would be felt to a greater and greater extent," Morris said.

The Army Corps is tasked with responding to emergencies and necessary functions, so its work would continue in those areas. Around 30 other Army Corps projects around the state, including the major Fargo/Moorhead metro study, would be put on hold, Davidson said.

Essential government functions would remain intact. Federal law enforcement officers, postal workers, air traffic controllers and airport security officers would keep working through the shutdown, and federal prisons and veterans affairs services would keep running, Morris said.

But federal offices such as the Small Business Association, Department of Interior, Department of Agriculture and Social Security Administration and passport offices would be shuttered except for emergency functions.

Luckily, many of those agencies allow people to carry out important tasks online. That's a big advantage a current shutdown would have over those in the 1990s, Morris said.

It's uncertain at this point whether the state's seven Internal Revenue Service offices would stay open, IRS spokeswoman Sue Hales said in an email. The IRS must maintain a contingency plan in case of a shutdown, Hales said.

U.S. Postal Service spokesman Peter Nowacki said the postal service is self-funded through postage and other operations, so the thousands of postal workers in Minnesota would keep collecting and delivering mail.

The state's tourism industry would feel a large impact, Morris said. The offices of Minnesota's five national parks and two national forests, including the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, would be closed. The public would still be able to enter the forests.

"Tourism is one of the biggest income markets within the U.S.," Morris said. "It severely impacts a lot of communities that rely on people visiting the country."

Some of the state's national parks have a combination of public and private owners in different regions.

The Mississippi National River and Recreation Area in the Twin Cities, for example, would remain open, as much of it is owned by state and private partners, said park superintendent Paul Labovitz. Its federal offices and programs, including the visitor's center, would close, he said. Other parks, like the Pipestone National Monument in Pipestone, would close completely.

In previous shutdowns, furloughed workers were reimbursed for time lost, Morris said. It's unclear whether that will happen this time.

On Wednesday, a letter to House Speaker John Boehner from 16 U.S. senators, including Minnesota's Amy Klobuchar, urged him to find another solution rather than a government shutdown.

"A government shutdown at this time would only serve as a counterproductive attack on our economic recovery," the letter said.

The letter went on to say that a bipartisan deal is possible and a shutdown would only punish citizens for political gain.

U.S. Sen. Al Franken said in a statement that the last government shutdown caused significant hardship for Minnesotans. He said another shutdown should be avoided at all costs.

"There's no question that we need to cut spending and reduce our deficit, but we must do it in a responsible way that helps create jobs — and that effort does not include shutting down the government," Franken said.

Copyright 2011 The Associated Press.

 


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