NEW INFO: Shutdown Affecting National Guard Readiness, Leaders Say

By: Jennifer Rizzi, The Associated Press Email
By: Jennifer Rizzi, The Associated Press Email
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UPDATE 10/8/13 @ 10:15 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- As the government shutdown drags on, leaders at the West Virginia National Guard say doing their job to protect you is becoming more difficult.

"It's going to be a lot more painful for us to get where we need to be," General James Hoyer said.

Hoyer says he's been shuffling state money around to cover the loss in federal funds.

He says maintenance projects for the Guard are being delayed as the money designated for them is floated to pay federal bills.

But the temporary fix can't solve all of the setbacks they're struggling with -- many of which Hoyer says could slow them down if duty calls.

"We were due to get some new helicopters the first of October," Hoyer said. "The first helicopter is still sitting in the depot because we can't pick it up."

More than 900 furloughed employees returned to work this week. Many of them won't see a paycheck until the government re-opens.

Hoyer says for the sake of local and national safety, that needs to happen soon.

"We are degrading readiness every day that they don't pass a full-blown budget," he said.

But he says despite the struggle, the work ethic West Virginians have come to know from the Guard won't change.

"One way or another, West Virginia Guardsmen will be where they need to be to take care of the people of West Virginia," Hoyer said.

Military leaders say it's costing the state about $300,000 per week to keep the Guard operating.

They say they have enough funds squared away for the next eight days. If the shutdown lasts longer, they say they'll have to regroup and come up with a new plan.

Keep clicking on for the latest information.

UPDATE 10/8/13 @ 4:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (AP) -- The leader of the West Virginia National Guard says the state isn't as prepared to respond to a disaster as it should be due to the federal government shutdown.

Maj. Gen. James Hoyer said Tuesday that a lack of funding is eroding the guard's preparedness. He says his units aren't training as much as they should be and maintenance of the guard's equipment is becoming an issue.

That's why the guard has now brought back more than 9-hundred of the 1,150 employees that were furloughed last week.

Hoyer says the maintenance is an especially big problem when it comes to responding to a disaster. He says the state may not be able to send as many helicopters to quickly respond to a disaster as it would like to because of maintenance problems, or because pilots aren't prepared to step in due to a lack of training.

UPDATE 10/2/13 @ 11:30 p.m.
CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) -- Authorities say the federal government shutdown is not jeopardizing public safety in West Virginia.

Lawrence Messina, communications director for the Department of Military Affairs and Public Safety, says federal first responders aren't being furloughed.

"Emergency resources that the public relies on are still in place," he said. "The public is not left in the lurch."

Messina says "essential" positions in agencies like FEMA and the Mine Safety and Health Administration (MSHA) are still ready to help if disaster strikes.

Federal first responders weren't needed Wednesday morning in South Charleston when a chemical leak spilled from the Clearon plant into the community.

Local emergency crews handled the entire response.

"I'm proud of our fire department and how they responded," South Charleston Mayor Frank Mullens said. "Their professionalism and their training."

But the shutdown could have jeopardized fire protection at Yeager Airport. Kanawha County Commissioners stepped up Wednesday to foot the government's bill and keep crews in place there.

It's a step that prevents the airport from shutting down.

"Even if you don't fly in and out of the airport, the impact on this state and county and city would be tremendous," Commission President Kent Carper said. "We can't just allow the airport to close because the people in Washington can't get their act together."

Airport directors say the commission's funding brings big sigh of relief -- but only for now.

"I'm concerned because we don't have unlimited resources in this county or in the airport," Yeager Director Rick Atkinson said. "[The shutdown] needs to be resolved and I hope they do the right thing."

Commissioners say they're now paying about $40,000 per week to keep the airport running.

They say they'll do it as long as it's necessary, even if that means cutting back on public works in the county like sewer projects.

Keep clicking on for the latest information.

CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) --The sting of the federal government shutdown is being felt by agencies close to home as some are forced to idle employees.

General James Hoyer says the shutdown has "significant consequences" for the West Virginia National Guard.

"Right now, the men and women of the National Guard who protect [us] are not being protected," he said.

Hoyer says a bill passed to protect military employees doesn't apply to many Guard members.

He was forced to send 1,150 employees home -- a situation he says left him at a loss for words.

"The governor and I are supposed to look these people in the eye," he said. "We ask young people to go to foreign countries, be ambassadors, and build relationships. But the people who are supposed to be taking care of them can't do that."

Hoyer says the stop in federal cash flow is also affecting training and emergency preparedness. He says the Guard may be slower to respond if crisis hits close to home.

"It's eating me up," he said. "I'm not sleeping. My colleagues aren't sleeping."

Hoyer says he's dipping into state money to provide for other employees, but those funds will only last so long.

The U.S. Attorney's office has also been hit by shutdown.

U.S. Attorney Booth Goodwin says more than 20 employees have been idled.

Most of them are administrative workers or employees in the Civil Division, which hears cases against the federal government.

Goodwin says cases will still proceed, but the process is significantly slowed. He says other employees now face the difficulty of picking up the slack.

"It's already a significant strain for a group of workers who haven't had a pay raise in three years," Goodwin said.

The Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) has escaped consequences from the shutdown -- at least for now.

Spokesperson Kathy Cosco tells no workers have been furloughed yet.

She says the DEP receives earmarked grants from the federal government at the beginning of the year, and still has enough money to operate for the next few weeks.

Keep clicking on for the latest information.

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