FARMINGTON — On Monday, as the debate on Capitol Hill appeared to be at an impasse, federal agencies in the Four Corners area prepared for a government shutdown.
Most vulnerable were two nearby national parks, Aztec Ruins National Monument and Chaco Culture National Historic Park.
The National Parks Service was preparing to send workers home as was the Bureau of Land Management's local field office
The gates to Chaco's 34,000 acres will be locked shut during a government shutdown, park officials said. And a planned Saturday celebration of the park's recent "Dark Sky" designation will be canceled, they said. The park is one of only four in the country with the International Dark Sky Association designation. Chaco officials said Monday they were concerned but hopeful the dedication ceremony would go ahead as planned.
Christine Czazasty, a park spokeswoman, admitted that personnel are spending more time looking east to Washington D.C. than heavenward to the Milky Way and other night sky jewels this week.
"We're all watching the news closely," Czazasty admitted. "If the government shuts down, our event will have to be cancelled and will be rescheduled for another time."
Like many park workers, Czazasty would be temporarily out of a job during a shutdown, though she planned to work unpaid today shutting down the park, posting notices and shuttering the entry ways.
G.B. Cornucopia, a Chaco park guide for 26 years, has seen it before.
"I hope we don't have to close," Cornucopia said. "Like the rest of us, I've seen it happen a lot where at the last minute something was worked out, so I'm focused on what you can see through the telescope, not a crystal ball."
Of the 650 employees who work for the Bureau of Land Management, the Farmington Field Office planned to furlough approximately 140.
According to Donna Hummel, the bureau's Santa Fe office spokeswoman, employees whose jobs ensure public safety would mostly carry on, including law enforcement rangers and agents who operate out of the Farmington office.
"If there's not a continuing resolution or a budget agreement reached, oil and gas inspection and enforcement staffing will be on-call and only be called in for regulatory inspections and enforcement actions that may be needed to ensure public and environmental health and safety," Hummel said. "Every employee at the bureau will effectively be on-call and core services will be maintained. If something doesn't require an essential government function, we are required to put it aside and it will be waiting for us when we return."
An actual number of oil and gas permits that would be "on-hold" during a furlough is difficult to determine, she said, but the bureau would not be able to process rights-of-way, applications for permits to drill and other routine work.
"They are already spread thin, but we will not see any change in their ability to fulfill their duties to ensure the public is safeguarded," she said. "Petroleum engineers and technicians will be available for both inspections and enforcement of oil leases, not that they will be available for all daily duties. Whatever is required, day-to-day inspections required by regulations and leases will continue to be performed. Whatever is not required for safety reasons will be forgone."
While state Sen. Steve Neville, R-Aztec, was not overly concerned about the specter of a shutdown, he admitted local fallout would affect critical services for certain groups in San Juan County.
"There's a lot of fed funding that comes into our area and it could hurt individual members, especially those who live on the reservation," Neville said. "HUD housing, VA loans -- you name it -- there's a lot of programs that receive federal dollars that many in our community rely on. It concerns me, depending of course on how long it lasts."
Neville, who considers himself a moderate conservative is tired of the legislative gridlock in Congress.
"In the state, there are people on both sides who are partisan, but most of us are kind of in the broad middle," he said. "We can sit down have a cup of coffee and work things out. Bills are voted on, pass or fail, but the extreme guys who make up a half dozen or so, don't get in the way of legislation like we see in Congress."
Though he is proud of state's legislative record, he decries the national trend toward extreme partisanship and inaction.
"It's just totally ridiculous," he said. "The whole concept of Congress is that you work out something like that through compromise, but this is something else and, unfortunately, that's the way it's been going the last 15 to 20 years."
James Fenton covers Aztec and Bloomfield for The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4631 and firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him @fentondt on Twitter.