Local agencies affected by shutdown

ALPENA -Though not many government agencies are in Northeast Michigan, the effects of the government shutdown hit close to home on Tuesday.

The Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary and United States Fish and Wildlife Services Alpena Field Office were closed on Tuesday, while the Social Security office could only offer limited services..

The lapse in federal funding caused the sanctuary to close its doors and shut down all of its operations until an appropriations bill has been passed. The sanctuary building is dark, the thunderstorm in the Great Lakes Maritime Heritage Center is silent, and student programming will be suspended until the government shutdown is over.

“We’re officially shut down,” sanctuary Superintendent Jeff Gray said. “(Tuesday) we had to turn away 140 school kids because we had to close our doors.”

Gray said the glass-bottom boat will continue operating because it is a private company, but instead of buying tickets at the Maritime Heritage Center, visitors must purchase tickets online or at the boat.

“With the shutdown, we’re not allowed to work until Congress passes the budget,” Gray said. “There’s really no estimate at all about how long it could be. We’re hopeful it will end soon and we can get back to protecting the Great Lakes.”

The Social Security office in Alpena is open during regular hours, although the services available are limited, according to postings there and on the federal website. A handout states the office is limited to helping walk-ins apply for benefits, issue a critical payment or replace a lost or missing one, among a list of services employees still can provide. Office employees can’t issue or replace Social Security cards, replace Medicare cards or issue a proof of income letter, according to the federal website.

The Fish and Wildlife Services office is closed “due to a lapse in federal funding,” according to an answering machine message there. Its website redirects to the Department of Interior’s main page, which features a message from President Barack Obama blaming the shutdown on Congress “fail(ing) to meet its responsibilty and pass a budget before the fiscal year that begins today,” and thanking federal employees for their work. There’s also a video from Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell saying a contingency plan was in place for the shut-down.

“So thank you very much for your hard work and contingency planning, for hanging in there with us during this period of uncertainty, and we’ll do everything we can to get past this quickly and get back to regular order in our business,” she said in the video.

Nicole Grulke can be reached via email at ngrulke@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5687. Follow Nicole on Twitter @ng_alpenanews.

Jordan Travis can be reached via email at jtravis@thealpenanews.com or by phone at 358-5688. Follow Jordan on Twitter @jt_alpenanews. Read his blog, A Snowball’s Chance, at www.thealpenanews.com.