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HOT SPRINGS -- The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Lake Ouachita, is one of the federal agencies unaffected by the partial government shutdown, according to an area supervisor.

Derick Walker, supervisory natural resource specialist with the Lake Ouachita field office, said Thursday that the Corps of Engineers is already funded through fiscal 2019.

"The three principal (fiscal year) 2019 appropriation bills which support funding for USACE operations were all passed by Congress and signed into law by the President before the beginning of FY19: Energy and Water, Defense and Military Construction/Veterans Affairs," Walker said in an email.

"These bills together virtually cover all Direct Funded USACE activities and an overwhelming majority of the reimbursable work for the remainder of this fiscal year," through Sept. 30, the email said.

While unaffected during the current partial shutdown, Walker said the Corps of Engineers has been affected by government shutdowns in previous years. In those cases, he said the Lake Ouachita office had to remove all campers on the lake and close all recreation area gates until the shutdown ended.

When this happens, he said the 16 recreation areas and approximately 500 campsites are forced to close, as well as all amenities in these areas such as bathrooms, shower houses and playgrounds. In the event the Corps is forced to cease operation for a shutdown, he said contract services like maintenance, mowing and janitorial are suspended, as well, impacting about 30 employees "since there is no money to fund these contracts, employees are sent home."

"Boat ramps and houseboat dump stations around the lake remained open," Walker said of previous shutdowns. "The communities and businesses around the lake are impacted due to lack of visitors coming to the lake and spending money in their establishments since most recreational area amenities are closed."

In 1995, Walker said "excepted" and "non-excepted" became the terms replacing "essential" and "nonessential" employees affected by a furlough, but the original wording is still widely used.

"Excepted employees are funded through annual appropriations who are nonetheless excepted from the furlough because they are performing work that, by law, may continue to be performed during a lapse in appropriations," he said. "Excepted employees include employees who are performing emergency work involving the safety of human life or the protection of property or performing certain other types of excepted work. Non-excepted employees receive furloughs during a government shutdown, meaning they do not report to work."

At the Lake Ouachita area, Walker said the number of excepted employees is minimal.

"Only a few employees of our 40-employee staff stay at work during a shutdown to ensure our property is protected," he said. "Other offices and functions of USACE are different, with an example being our Blakely Dam Powerhouse employees who are all deemed excepted to support essential missions like Flood Control and Hydropower."

Hot Springs National Park has closed most of its facilities during the partial shutdown. Law enforcement officials are still on duty in the event of emergencies within the park.

Utilities, including water, restrooms and electricity, have been shut off in the Gulpha Gorge campground so the park will not incur additional costs. Cold water springs have also been closed.

Private businesses operating within the park, including Superior Bathhouse Brewery, Quapaw Baths & Spa, the Buckstaff Bath House and the Hot Springs Mountain Tower, remain open, as do the park's thermal water jug fountains.

Metro on 12/28/2018

Print Headline: Army Corps remains on duty; agency is funded through fiscal ’19

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