KILAUEA — The federal government shutdown is underway.
How long it lasts, is anyone’s guess.
But one sore spot the lawmakers’ stalemate has created locally with visitors and residents alike is the lack of access to Kauai’s federal wildlife refuge.
Although Kauai does not have a national park, the Kauai National Wildlife Complex, which includes Kilauea Point National Wildlife Refuge and the Daniel K. Inouye Kilauea Point Lighthouse; the Hanalei NWR and Huliea NWR near the Menehune Fish Pond in Lihue, are run by the Department of the Interior and are closed for the duration of the federal government shutdown.
“The refuge is closed,” said Jane Hoffman, executive director of the Kilauea Point Natural History Association, a nonprofit with a mission to support Kauai’s three wildlife missions.
The Kauai NWR is run under Shannon Smith, who was not available to talk Tuesday as the shutdown was in its first day. But signs at the popular destination told visitors the grounds were closed. Volunteers at the refuge departed in their government vehicles around 11:50 a.m. Tuesday.
Outside the gate were nearly 50 people lining the overlook fence to take photos of the Kilauea Light House. Some were disappointed that they couldn’t access the grounds.
“We wanted to see the lighthouse and the birds,” said Jason Pollock, of Los Angeles, visiting with Katy Pollock, both of whom had the refuge on their list of things to see while on vacation.
“I wish they would at least just let us walk around in there,” Katy Pollock added.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced Tuesday that it is suspending most programs and operations, including public access to all 561 National wildlife refuges, visitor centers and other buildings, and all activities on those lands including hunting and fishing.
Bob and Linda Hartmany, of Georgia, have been coming to Kauai since the 1970s and have been to the refuge several times. This time, however, they said they brought their four daughters, who wanted to see the birds and the lighthouse up close.
But that didn’t happen.
“We’ve been here before but the girls haven’t,” Bob Hartmany said.
Surf’s still up
Mike Cantin, warning coordination specialist with the National Weather Forecast Office, said the Honolulu office remains operational to provide weather watches, warnings, forecasts and decision support.
He said there should be no interruption to weather data and information to disrupt online weather reports.
“The information used in the surf reports comes in from lifeguards around the state,” Cantin said. “It will be updated as information is received from the guards.”
School is open
James Dire, vice chancellor of academic affairs for Kauai Community College, said that no students, faculty, staff or programs should be affected by the shutdown.
He said it was fortuitous that the Congressional fiscal year starts on Oct. 1, while the University of Hawaii academic year started two months prior in August.
By in large, KCC’s funding comes from the Legislature. Federal funds that were awarded for grants and aid are typically one-time institutional payments.
“We do have several federal grants and people are hired under those grants,” Dire said. “Fortunately, the grant money comes to us in advance and the government shutdown doesn’t affect them at all.”
Court is open
The U.S. District Court for Hawaii is in Honolulu and will continue operating as scheduled for 10 days during the shutdown. The shutdown does present some news for Kauai residents.
The 10-day limit should allow the scheduled sentencing for David Verden Williams, Jr. to conclude on Oct. 7. The 35-year-old man pleaded guilty to the first-degree bank robbery of $17,397 from the American Savings Bank in Lihue on Sept. 7, 2011.
USDA, SS offices could be affected
While the main Kauai office of the U.S. Department of Agriculture was still open for business, certain programs within the department were shut down Tuesday, according to an employee who declined to provide his name or position or the extent of what services will be limited.
Closed signs were spotted on the front doors of the department’s Farm Service Agency and Natural Resources Conservation Service, inside Lihue’s Watumull Building.
“The office will reopen once Congress restores funding,” one sign read.
A national release said all Social Security field offices will offer limited services. According to government websites, those offices will continue to process benefit applications, payee changes and appeals, for example, but will hold off on activities such as record requests and issuing new cards.
WIC, flights sailing smoothly
The Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Kauai Women, Infants and Children (WIC), part of USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service, was unaffected by the shutdown as of Tuesday, according to an employee.
Meanwhile, Patricia Wong, Hawaii Department of Transportation spokeswoman, said she was unaware of any impacts of the shutdown at the Lihue Airport.
“As far as we know, Lihue Airport is not being affected,” she said.
The two veteran service agencies under the federal umbrella on Kauai shouldn’t experience an interruption to services, officials said.
Romy Castillo, team leader for Kauai Vet Center, said the KVC and VA Clinic shouldn’t see delays in medical or benefit services. The two see about 6,600 visitors a year.
“We’re not going to be constrained by the shutdown,” he said. “Especially the medical side.”
The operations are funded through fiscal year 2014. Benefit processes could slow if the shutdown lasts three or four weeks, but that shouldn’t affect the local population too much, he said.
“We’re telling vets, yeah, we’re pretty much operational, no need to worry about that,” he said.
• Staff writers Chris D’Angelo and Tom Hasslinger contributed to this report.