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Federal government shutdown hits north coast

Published: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.
Last Modified: Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 2:03 p.m.

Hundreds of North Coast federal employees prepared to stop work Tuesday morning as a result of the government shutdown that furloughed some 800,000 federal workers nationwide.

Non-essential employees were given until noon Tuesday to clean up their offices and leave outgoing voice and email messages.

At the federal building in Santa Rosa, which houses about 150 government workers, employees in casual attire cleaned out refrigerators and packed potted plants not knowing when they would be back at work.

About a third of those workers, who are with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, one of the agencies designated to shut down, are legally barred from working and will not get paid during the furlough.

The Santa Rosa office is a hub for NOAA's fisheries restoration efforts, Endangered Species Act enforcement and oil spill clean up.

“We committed our lives to service so that future generations can enjoy our fisheries and our resources,” said Natalie Manning, a restoration program manager. “It's not like we have executive pay positions. We live paycheck to paycheck.”

Many of the North Coast's 2,030 federal workers were ordered to stay home. IRS offices in Santa Rosa were closed. The Social Security field office in Santa Rosa was open but with limited services.

U.S. Bankruptcy Court judges were scheduled to hear cases for the next two weeks before shuttering if Congress fails to pass a budget bill.

The Point Reyes National Seashore closed and gave visitors two days to leave the park.

The Veterans Affairs clinic in Santa Rosa was open.

North Coast winemakers and brewers were worried Tuesday after the Treasury Department said that regulatory activities such as reviewing alcohol licenses or proposed labels for new wine and beer products would be suspended for the duration of the shutdown.

Collin McDonnell, founder of Petaluma's HenHouse Brewing, said a delay of any length would further backlog the department's review process and call into question his hope to expand production from 60 gallons per week to 1,200 by the end of the year.

“We need to be moving forward with this expansion and without federal approval we won't be able to sell any of the beer we would be able to produce at this new location,” he said.

He expressed frustration at the potential delay, saying that the brewery has been operating on a shoestring and the owners were hoping to make it a profitable venture.

“None of us has pulled a paycheck from HenHouse yet and this just makes it that much farther off,” he said.

Erich Bradley, winemaker at Repris Wines near Sonoma, was relieved to hear that the new Moon Mountain grape-growing region was approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau the day before the government shutdown, but was concerned about other impacts of the shutdown.

“Our wineries are going to be affected in terms of being able to submit for all sorts of things,” he said. “If this thing goes on long enough, it's going to interrupt business in a meaningful way. If we can't bottle more wine and label it, it's going to hamstring us. If it's over in a few days we'll be okay, but if it's longer than that it would be a pain.”

Staff Writers Sean Scully and Cathy Bussewitz contributed to this report.

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