ST. GEORGE — With a partial shutdown of the federal government having become a reality Friday, Gov. Gary Herbert’s office issued a statement that Utah is taking “all necessary precautions to ensure continuity of services.”
The result of an impasse among the country’s leaders over funding for a border wall along the U.S.-Mexico border, the shutdown will affect approximately 25 percent of federal agencies and services, and some 800,000 workers nationwide.
Among the agencies affected that will impact Utah the most is the Department of the Interior, which oversees management of the National Park Service in such areas in Southern Utah as Zion National Park and Glen Canyon National Recreation Area.
In past shutdowns, such as the weekslong impasse in 2013, this has resulted in the closure of national parks and forests and the furlough of the federal employees who manage those lands, disrupting travel, tourism and outdoor recreation.
According to a contingency plan, the National Park Service intends to “suspend all activities except for those that are essential to respond to emergencies involving the safety of human life or the protection of property.” Most other visitor services will not be available, including restrooms, trash collection, facilities and roads maintenance, campground reservation services and issuance of permits, among other services.
“The State of Utah, however, has been working proactively with the National Park Service and other federal agencies to keep Utah’s federal public lands, including National Parks, as accessible as possible even if there is a shutdown,” the governor’s office said in the statement.
During the 2013 shutdown, the state provided nearly $1 million to the federal government to keep the state’s national parks operational. Since then, the governor’s office says “proactive planning leads us to believe that the state can assist in keeping the National Parks open during this holiday season at less than a tenth that cost.”
Besides the state government, local agencies have also stepped up in the past to ensure federal lands are still accessible to visitors. Such was the case in Southern Utah in January of this year during a three-day shutdown when Garfield County officials and businesses pitched in to provide Bryce Canyon National Park with staffing and snowplow services.
Since the beginning of this week, the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget has also been preparing contingency funding plans for all other state agencies that rely on federal funding. The office’s executive director, Kris Cox, has instructed officials heading these agencies to prepare for the likelihood of a “temporary” shutdown.
However, the shutdown may not end up being temporary, with President Donald Trump saying earlier Friday that a closure could drag on “for a very long time.”
The governor’s office says a long-term federal government shutdown “creates greater challenge and risk for everyone.” Nonetheless, the state’s Division of Finance and the Governor’s Office of Management and Budget are assessing limited cash flow options that “might be available” in the event of a prolonged shutdown.
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