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July 23, 2014

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Shutdown presents mixed bag for federal facilities in, around Las Vegas

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Sam Morris / Las Vegas Sun

A motorcyclist approaches a ticket booth for the Lake Mead National Recreation Area, which is closed because of the federal government shutdown Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013.

Government Shutdown: Las Vegas

The gates to Red Rock National Conservation Area are seen closed because of the federal government shutdown Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013. Launch slideshow »

Hundreds of visitors arriving Tuesday at Red Rock Canyon National Conservation Area west of Las Vegas encountered a closed gate.

Those curious enough to stop and inquire about the closure met Chris Allen, a Bureau of Land Management officer stationed at the gate.

"The government is shut down and Red Rock is closed," he said to one couple from South Carolina.

The couple grumbled about the federal government and walked away discontent with having to view the red rocks from afar.

To another man Allen advised, “We're closed until Congress approves a budget.” Stefan Leeman of Switzerland simply replied, "What?"

From mountain trails of Red Rock to cubicles at Nellis Air Force Base, the effects of the first shutdown of the federal government in 17 years were on display Tuesday in and around Las Vegas.

At Red Rock Canyon, hundreds of other would-be visitors drove by, seemingly puzzled at the closure and perhaps understandably unaware that a new fiscal year had begun Tuesday without a federal budget in place.

"We're not really following the news so we didn't have any clue what's going on," said Laing Aiton of Canada, who tried to visit Red Rock with his wife and two other traveling companions.

Aiton said he didn't follow news while on vacation and wasn't up-to-date with the decisions of a foreign government.

So on Tuesday morning, the best he and his fellow travelers could do was view the scenic vistas from afar as they stood behind the closed gate onto which was attached an incorrect sign that said "Gate open at 6 a.m."

Southeast of Las Vegas at another federal tourist attraction, it was business as usual. Hoover Dam’s visitors services remained open to the public despite the government shutdown. That’s because operation of the facility is not dependent on funds appropriated by Congress.

The government shutdown will, however, close Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Park officials spent their last day before their forced furloughs setting up barricades and closure signs at trailheads and overlooks to inform visitors of the closure.

The park is expected to be empty by 3 p.m. Thursday, spokeswoman Christie Vanover said.

The shutdown will impact both the recreation area and the surrounding local economies, Vanover said. The recreation area will lose about 14,500 visitors every day it remains closed. Those visitors typically contribute $17 million to Boulder City, Laughlin and Las Vegas in October, she said.

Aside from park rangers, 170 federal workers employed at Lake Mead will be on furlough creating a sense of unease.

“There is definitely some anxiety because of the uncertainty,” Vanover said. “They don’t know how long this will last … and they also don’t know if they will get paid or not.”

People with boats on the lake or who own a property will have access to remove their boat or personal items.

The government shutdown will affect 1,100 civilian employees at Nellis Air Force Base. Workers who are not directly involved in security or other “excepted” military services will be furloughed until a budget resolution is passed, Nellis officials said in a statement.

The furloughs come on top of the 20 percent salary cut civilian employees were forced to take over the last six weeks because of sequestration.

“The Air Force is attempting to minimize the negative impact, and is working with Department of Defense to address the issue,” the statement said. “Services in support to local airmen and their families will be significantly disrupted as agencies suspend operation pending restoration of funding.”

Vernon Steed, president American Federal Government Local 1199, said there was a feeling of disgust and frustration over the shutdown from the civilian workers he represents. Many of the workers are worried about paying their mortgages, tuition and other bills, he said.

“Of course people are fearful,” Steed said. “The times are already bad for all of us, and now you’re going to be in a position to lose pay for 30 days. It’s terribly frightening.”

Military personnel are not subject to furlough. Late Monday, President Barack Obama signed a bill that passed unanimously in the House and the Senate to make sure troops get paid through a shutdown.

Little to no effect from the shutdown was felt at McCarran International Airport. The Federal Aviation Administration, Transportation Security Administration and Customs and Border Protection all were staffed, according to the airport’s twitter feed.

Meanwhile, federal offices continued to do brisk business Tuesday. Employees at the Social Security Administration office at 1250 S. Buffalo Drive in Las Vegas were tending to a steady stream of customers Tuesday morning, and the federal courthouse kept its doors open. The Equal Opportunity Employment Commission office had closed at the courthouse in downtown Las Vegas.

Allen, the BLM officer at Red Rock, said a BLM media liaison in Northern Nevada could offer more information about statewide federal closures.

The press officer, however, did not pick up her telephone. Instead, her voicemail said, "I am currently unavailable because of the government shutdown."

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