BAR HARBOR, Maine – Portsmouth Naval Shipyard workers were furloughed Tuesday because of the federal government’s partial shutdown, while visitors to Maine’s Acadia National Park expressed disappointment that the shutdown had forced the park to close its gates during foliage season.
The national park that draws more than 2 million visitors each year was blocking the Park Loop Road, cutting off access to the summit of Cadillac Mountain and the Jordan Pond House Restaurant. Bathrooms and gates were being closed, and campers were being asked to leave.
Last year, about 300,000 people visited the park in October. The shutdown came on a day when two cruise ships with more than 5,200 passengers were visiting Bar Harbor. In all, more than 40 cruise ships are slated to visit the port this month.
“It’s a shame. This is peak fall colour season. It’s one of the busiest times of the year,” said Sheridan Steele, park superintendent.
Business owners were worried about the ripple effect on the local economy. Hotel operators and owners of bed and breakfast establishments around the park prepared for cancellations, even as they insisted that there’s still plenty to do — boating, kayaking, hiking and browsing Bar Harbor — and that visitors can enjoy the foliage and ocean views from places on Mount Desert Island other than the park.
Susan Schwartz, co-owner of the Hearthside Bed & Breakfast, said she’d heard of guests calling to express concerns but she said Monday that she’d had no cancellations. She likened the news of a shutdown to a tropical storm or hurricane in terms of potential for harm to local businesses — only this one could be self-inflicted.
“Nobody’s calling because of hurricanes — until now. The government is doing it us. You can’t control hurricanes but this is something that we could control,” Schwartz said from Bar Harbor.
To the south, about 1,520 civilian employees were furloughed at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, where nuclear submarines are repaired and overhauled, the shipyard said. Nearly 3,100 civilian employees were exempt from furloughs.
Including employees of support agencies located on the island that houses the shipyard, more than 2,000 in are out of work, said Paul O’Connor, president of the Metal Trades Council, which represents 2,300 workers.
Without paychecks, those employees won’t be eating out, going shopping or otherwise able to support local businesses, said O’Connor, blaming House Republicans for causing the shutdown.
He said he was offended when he heard somebody on TV describe the shutdown as a “hiccup.”
“If you could have stood at the gate to our shipyard watching more than 1,000 employees coming out half-dazed without a paycheque, that’s a hiccup? Real people are being impacted adversely,” he said.
Thousands of shipyard workers at Maine’s Bath Iron Works, a subsidiary of General Dynamics, wouldn’t be affected because it’s a private company.
“We don’t anticipate that a short shutdown will have any effect on our operations. General Dynamics Bath Iron Works will continue to deliver products and services to our customers under the contracts that are currently in place,” said Jim DeMartini, a shipyard spokesman.