Pauls Valley, OK, Pauls Valley Democrat

October 3, 2013

Shutdown has local impact

Ezra Mann
Pauls Valley Democrat — Consequences of Tuesday’s government shutdown made an immediate impact across the nation as many saw funding suspended to key programs and were not allowed to return to work.

The ripple can be seen all the way down to examples along the lines of Pauls Valley where local offices like the USDA were forced to close until further notice, which happens to be where Garvin Conservation District representatives like Trey Lam conduct a majority of necessary duties.

Though he does not draw a paycheck like others who use the same facility, the shutdown has sufficiently hampered their ability to communicate with the people who depend on their services — from individuals to companies operating in Garvin County.

“That limits access to our files or information; makes it more difficult for public to contact us because they cannot stop by the office,” said Lam, noting how they’ve had to conduct most of their business by cell phones. “A lot of it depends on how long it lasts.”

The office also acts as an example of the overall picture of how these agencies also depend on each other to share information across the agriculture community, said Lam. Each of the entities that share the building have to be creative with already tight resources, often dealing a budget that has been cut down severely already and there are many occasions when they must rely on each other.

One such example would be how the federally funded National Resource Conservation Service offers technical expertise on how to proceed with something like building a pond or planting grass and which projects they should proceed with or fund, said Lam.

There even are at least a few examples a year where they call upon federal engineers out of Stillwater to handle matters like what to do when an oil company may want to drill a well near a water source and if they can’t reach them, neither the district nor the company in question can proceed.

“There’s a real impact on the employees there,” said Lam, noting how he feels sympathy for those whose livelihoods are cut off. “They had nothing to do with this but are furloughed from their jobs.”

Entities like the district often deal with delays on the number of projects they can handle at one time and a shutdown will only add to the wait when the offices finally reopen, said Lam. The closed office also means delaying access to waterway decisions like dams, where they often go back to the office to look up original information before proceeding on judgments that can reach the environmental level.

“It’s not just affecting the days they don’t work, but when they come back,” said Lam. “That’s not just our offices, but other offices.”

Much of why a government shutdown is something that can be worked around comes down to already having the funds for the projects that were approved the previous year, said Lam. He says he and his colleagues can continue to go on with their duties as the state provides a majority of their funds, but for things that need federal money, inactivity that drags on long enough could impact whether or not they are approved when the next year’s needs arrive.

Ultimately Lam is concerned how the very people they are supposed to help may be forced to proceed to make uninformed decisions that have an increased chance for error. He noted how the landowners, some of them farmers, will not be able to wait for an indefinite timetable.

“It’s a minor inconvenience right now, but if it drags on it will be much worse,” said Lam. “Eventually down the road it will affect the projects we do.”

For more information people are still being asked to call the Conservation District office at 405-238-6767, where they can dial 101 and then # before beefing given to a list of contact numbers depending on one’s needs.

Editor’s note: More will be featured in another story in the PV Democrat how the shutdown has impacted other national issues like delaying the farm bill.