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Cape Lookout employees squeezed by shutdown

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Posted: Wednesday, January 9, 2019 12:00 pm

HARKERS ISLAND — Cape Lookout National Seashore has been weathering the partial federal government shutdown so far, but the tourist season is drawing closer.

As of Monday, the federal shutdown of all non-essential federal facilities has been going on for about three weeks. Among the facilities shut down have been many National Park Service offices at many parks and landmarks, though the assets themselves have remained open to the public.

At Cape Lookout National Seashore, NPS Superintendent Jeff West said all 35 service employees there have been put on furlough and three of them are working without pay.

“The staff are a resilient group of people,” Mr. West said. “They’re getting by right now.”

Fortunately for Cape Lookout and those who benefit from its attraction as a tourist destination, the shutdown is going on during the time most of the facilities – such as the Long Point rental cabins, the Cape Lookout Lighthouse and the visitor center in Beaufort - are closed for the offseason. The ferry service to the cape, which is provided by the privately owned Island Express Ferry Service of Beaufort, is still running.

“The only thing closed now that’s not already closed for the season is the Harkers Island Visitor Center and its restrooms,” Mr. West said. “Right now we’re operating with a skeleton crew, which makes emergency response difficult along the 58 miles of coastline (in Cape Lookout).”

Mr. West said as of Tuesday, there haven’t been any emergency calls at Cape Lookout.

The shutdown means, however, that there’s no staff there for things like trash pickup. However, Mr. West said Cape Lookout is normally a “trash free” park, employing the “pack it in, pack it out” practice with their visitors.

“As far as (facility) maintenance goes, we’re making sure critical systems keep working,” he said. “Right now we can handle it in the offseason.”

While most of the facilities closed now would be closed anyway, that will change in about three months. Mr. West said facilities like the rental cabins normally open about March 15 each year, and NPS staff usually start holding lighthouse tours in May.

If the shutdown doesn’t end by then, the facilities will remain closed past their normal opening dates. Mr. West, however, said he was confident Congress and President Donald Trump will come to an agreement over the federal budget and lift the shutdown before then.

Over in Beaufort, Island Express owner and operator Capt. George Aswad said the only thing that’s been hurting their business with Cape Lookout to date has been the weather.

“They have the (Harkers Island) visitor center closed, which affects things a little bit,” he said.

However, if the shutdown persists into the tourist season, that will mean trouble for Island Express, according to Capt. Aswad.

“Mr. West has been phenomenal to work with,” the captain said. “But if it (the shutdown) continues, there’s only so much he can do. He can’t open the lighthouse, that will affect us. It will also affect the businesses and restaurants in Harkers Island.”

Capt. Aswad said he and other local businesses that benefit from Cape Lookout’s visitation are lucky the shutdown happened in winter instead of summer. However, he said given the conflicting reports coming from Washington, D.C., he’s unsure how long the shutdown will continue.

The partial federal shutdown is the result of an impasse between Congress and President Trump. Congress won’t sign a budget that includes funds for a border wall sought by the president, who won’t lift the shutdown without a budget that includes wall funding.

According to reports from The Associated Press Jan. 5 and 6, little to no headway has been made in overcoming the impasse. Meanwhile, many national parks remain open but unstaffed, leading to problems keeping them clean.

The NPS has begun using entrance fee funds to pay for staff at “highly visited” parks. Cape Lookout doesn’t charge entrance fees, however.

National Parks Conservation Association President and CEO Theresa Pierno Jan. 6 responded to this action, saying “the administration is robbing money collected from entrance fees to operate our national parks during this shutdown.”

“For those parks that don’t collect fees, they will now be in the position of competing for the same inadequate pot of money to protect their resources and visitors,” Ms. Pierno said. “Draining accounts dry is not the answer.”  

Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.

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  • Rainman posted at 6:02 pm on Thu, Jan 10, 2019.

    Rainman Posts: 19

    As a kid growing up down east in the 70's, 80's and 90's I never noticed the need for any federal govt intervention on the Cape Lookout property. Now they want us to believe the island is in peril without the watchful eye of paid fed employee's??? The park police do little more than extort money from locals in every way possible. What they've done with the seashore is "legal" theft.

  • mtstosea posted at 6:02 pm on Wed, Jan 9, 2019.

    mtstosea Posts: 50

    Agree, and ran fine with the private locals who ran the ferries and entertained us with folklore and history.

  • NC-Native-Son posted at 5:37 pm on Wed, Jan 9, 2019.

    NC-Native-Son Posts: 504

    I do not often agree with Mr. DB, but he is right on this one.

  • Core Sounder posted at 4:12 pm on Wed, Jan 9, 2019.

    Core Sounder Posts: 418

    money says that cape lookout along with core banks and shackleford will all survive nicely.

  • DeadBolt posted at 12:18 pm on Wed, Jan 9, 2019.

    DeadBolt Posts: 2664

    Ran fine well before any government took it over like gangster's.

    ps. this includes the special interest groups that got it to the point as which to cause the government to even get involved. Possibly these groups can pay the wages? [wink]


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