The News Desk is a collection of news, notes and breaking items affecting the Fredericksburg community.
IMPACT OF SHUTDOWN GROWING BY THE DAY
As the federal shutdown ended its first full day on Wednesday, the impact became apparent across the Fredericksburg area.
With thousands of area federal workers on furlough, spaces were plentiful in normally crowded commuter parking lots; university students struggled to get data with federal websites blocked; and hunting season could get off to a late start on some local military installations if the political standoff in D.C. continues.
VRE RIDERSHIP DROPS
“We’ve been watching it closely,” Virginia Railway Express spokesman Mark Roeber said of the partial government shutdown’s impact on riders using the commuter trains. “There’s still a lot of people riding.”
On Tuesday, he said, there was little change in the number of commuters on the trains to Washington. On Wednesday morning, there was about a 30 percent reduction in riders, with about 6,600 taking VRE trains out of Fredericksburg and Manassas.
That drop is significant, but it’s not enough for VRE to cut back on the number of commuter trains, so VRE plans to run its regular schedule today, Roeber said.
He said VRE will keep monitoring the shutdown’s impact on ridership to see if any adjustment needs to be made.
And ridership on Metro in the D.C. area also was down 20 to 25 percent during Wednesday morning’s rush hour compared to a week ago, according to the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority.
CENSUS DATA SETBACK
Students in professor Andréa Smith’s senior-level preservation planning class at the University of Mary Washington in Fredericksburg found out that federal agencies’ webmasters aren’t exempt from furlough during the shutdown.
The class, which uses the U.S. Census Bureau website for its assignments, learned that it’s not currently available for historic and current information about Fredericksburg neighborhoods, which is used to provide context for the local architecture the students are studying.
Tuesday, the first day of the partial government shutdown, was ironically the first day the classes needed to use the website, Smith said.
The National Park Service website is also used in the course, and Smith had already assigned reading on the site that is no longer accessible.
However, Smith said she has downloaded some material for previous classes from the NPS site and if the shutdown lasts, she can pull some of those files from her computer.
“Overall, the shutdown is going to have significant effects for planners and preservationists; we all work with, or for, federal agencies and use federal resources daily,” said Smith, who is director of the university’s Center for Historic Preservation.
She cited one graduate of the UMW program who is now a planning graduate student, and tweeted “assignments postponed because everything we do needs #census data. #shutdown perks.”
There is a silver lining, though. Smith said when she walked into class Tuesday her students were having an animated conversation about the shutdown.
“If any of them were underestimating how practical and relevant their education is, they definitely aren’t anymore,” Smith said. “It’s really encouraging to see how engaged they are.”
Hunting at Fort A.P. Hill and Quantico Marine Corps Base is closed during the government shutdown, as is fishing at A.P. Hill. Fishing remains open at Quantico, according to its website about the impact of furloughs.
It’s prime time for hunters to start entering the woods. Saturday is the beginning of archery season, when hunters can kill deer with bows and arrows. Turkeys and squirrel seasons also open the same day.
Less than two weeks ago, A.P. Hill officials predicted on Twitter it “could be a tough winter on wildlife if weather is severe.” The acorn crop looks poor, especially for white oaks, and several species, such as deer and turkey, rely heavily on them for food.
Even at installations that seemingly aren’t affected by the shutdown, such as the Navy base at Dahlgren, commissaries are closed.
The facilities sell groceries and household items to members of the military and their families. The commissary at Quantico Marine Corps Base and post exchange at A.P. Hill are also closed.
On Tuesday, King George Supervisor Ruby Brabo reminded people on her Facebook page about the impending closure: “If you shop the Dahlgren commissary, get your groceries today as it will be closed beginning tomorrow due to the government shutdown.”
The Virginia Employment Commission couldn’t release the latest local unemployment data Wednesday because of the shutdown.
The VEC had originally planned to send out the August data then, but was unable to do so because numbers were not available from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. A majority of the 16,304 workers with the Department of Labor have been furloughed.
“Updates of the BLS data on our website will start again when the federal government resumes operations,” the VEC said in an email. “We are sorry for any inconvenience.”
SPEAKING OF BOOKS
Beth Solka at the Central Rappahannock Regional Library says on her blog that while the shutdown is in effect there will be no downloading of Talking Books. The audio books and magazines are for the blind and physically handicapped.
There’s no access to the online catalog, no federal website available for Talking Books and no one will be in the offices in Washington.
However, the Talking Book Library in Fredericksburg will be open.