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Local federal facilities feeling effects of govt. shutdown
 lhobbs  / 

An older man and a younger woman did not have to time talk Wednesday afternoon upon reaching the parking lot after strolling the grounds at Fort Frederica National Monument.

It was immediately clear why when the rest of their party came walking around the corner of the building that housed the restrooms of this historic site on St. Simons Island. The grandmotherly matron appeared somewhat frazzled as she escorted two tykes from the building, which presently features locked bathroom doors with a sign indicating the facilities are closed until further notice.

“Let’s go, c’mon!” the man called to them.

Likewise, Fort Frederica’s museum and gift shop are closed due to the standoff between President Trump and Democrats in Congress over whether to include funding in the new federal budget for a wall along the Mexican border. Trump insists that new fiscal year budget must include money for a border wall to combat illegal immigration, a cornerstone promise of his 2016 presidential campaign. Democrats counter that the money Trump seeks is exorbitant and unnecessary.

Locally, federally-funded places like Fort Frederica are already feeling the crunch, as about a quarter of the federal government is affected nationwide, according to the Associated Press.

At the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center on Chapel Crossing Road in Glynn County, only the most essential of the facility’s employees are showing up for work, according to the Department of Homeland Security’s website. That amounts to 66 of FLETC’s 1,278 employees, the DHS website said.

However, an FLETC instructor, who requested anonymity, told The News that all instructors who live within 50 miles of the facility had been ordered back to work Wednesday. Students who are already enrolled in ongoing classes at fLETC are expected to return to classes Friday, the instructor said. FLETC employees working during the shutdown will be paid, but it is uncertain when those paychecks will arrive, the instructor said.

FLETC oversees instruction for some 91 federal law enforcement agencies, including U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

In Camden County, Cumberland Island National Seashore remains open to visitors. However, public transportation on the island and ferries to the island are closed, as is the island’s visitor center, museum, headquarters and, yes, restrooms.

With temperatures in the bracing low 60s under sunny skies Wednesday, dozens strolled the unattended grounds of Fort Frederica National Monument. Some 15 visitors’ vehicles were in the parking lot around 3 p.m. But there were no employees to maintain the restrooms, or to operate the gift shop and museum, which features authentic artifacts from the British fort’s 18th century origins.

“The grounds are open, but the buildings are closed,” Site Manager Steve Theus told The News. “People can still go out to the fort and walk around the grounds. But the bathroom and visitors center are still closed.”

The closure affects about a half dozen full-time park employees, he said. As site manager, Theus is putting in some time daily at fort to provide basic maintenance and observation. The entry gates are automated to open and close with the facility’s 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. hours, he said. Bloody Marsh National Monument, located on Old Demere Road on St. Simons Island, also remains open. Trash collection is not taking place at either site, according to a press release.

A man walking the grounds of the fort with his wife and their furry pooch Wednesday took the facility’s scaled back accommodations in stride. He predicted the shutdown would work itself out sooner than later.

“I went through several of those (shutdowns) when I worked for the government,” said Steve, who declined to offer his last name. “It has happened before and it will happen again.”

Janet E. of Jacksonville strolled the site’s main pathway with her dachshund Abigail. She would have liked a visit to the locked museum, but otherwise enjoyed her tour of the “delightful area.” She was not nearly as noncommittal with her opinions on the brouhaha in Washington, D.C.

“I wasn’t surprised, because of our president shutting down the government,” she said. “It’s a great time of the year to do that — all these people are wondering when they’re going to be able to get a paycheck. It’s unfortunate, and I think it was all for the wrong reasons.”

Meanwhile, among those who are not working at FLETC during the government shutdown is Alicia Gregory, the center’s Senior Public Affairs Specialist. She did nevertheless answer a call from home to her cellphone Wednesday.

“Those who are not essential are not at work,” Gregory said. “That’s all I can tell you at this time.”

Animal control to start off new year with changes
 tcooper  / 

Glynn County Animal Control is starting off the new year with some changes.

Beginning on Jan. 7, the animal control will open its U.S. Highway 17 shelter on Monday in addition to its current hours of operation.

At present, the shelter opens to the public from noon to 5 p.m. Tuesdays through Saturdays with the exception of holidays like Christmas and New Year’s Day.

“The only thing that it does is makes us have to make sure we have someone to open on Mondays,” said Animal Control Manager Tiffani Hill.

Animals control staff take care of shelter pets seven days a week, however.

Nine staff members, along with volunteers, spend eight hours every day taking care of animals on top of emergencies or dealing with sick animals, she said.

It takes at least four people to run the shelter on days it opens to the public, Hill explained, but two people can handle it on days when the shelter is closed.

“We have adjusted our scheduling to allow for it,” Hill said.

In addition, Hill said the new schedule will make it easier for staff to arrange time off and reduce overtime.

“The other thing that it does is that in this rotation staff now have regular three-day weekends worked into their schedules so they get a break because it’s a hard job,” Hill said.

Regardless of the schedule, Hill said animal control personnel set up appointments with members of the public who may have lost a pet or are looking to adopt one outside regular hours.

Anyone interested can set up an appointment at the shelter or by calling 912-554-7500.

Looking back at 2018, her first full year as animal control manager, Hill admitted that the job hasn’t been easy.

“I honestly have to say this is the most challenging position I’ve held,” Hill said. “One of the challenges is, I come from the West Coast where more progressive animal welfare standards are more common.”

Hill took over Glynn County Animal Control as interim manager in November 2017 before the county hired her as the permanent manager in January of this year.

She worked at a number of animal welfare organizations, including two in Los Angeles and Santa Barbara, Calif., before taking the job.

Some challenges, she said, are legislative ones. Bans on selling pets from breeders in pets shops, mandatory sterilization and legal catch-and-release of stray animals are commonplace in California, but not in Georgia.

Other challenges manifest in the way people interact with their pets. One example is leashing animals to trees or posts for long periods, which is rare out west, she said.

“That has taken some getting used to. Some of the animal practices here, especially pet ownership practices, are not what I’m used to,” Hill said.

Despite the challenges, Hill said the staff at animal control are working to make a difference.

“I feel confident in saying, over the past year, we at animal control have made some adjustments so that we are providing a higher level of customer service and animal care,” Hill said.

Ever since the county’s 911 Center started handing dispatch of animal control officers, she said the number of complaints about difficulty getting in contact with the shelter has dropped significantly.

“We have reduced costs, but not sacrificed animal care,” Hill said.

When the county’s former shelter veterinarian retired, Hill said animal control was able to cut costs by altering the contract for the new vet. The new vet worked at the shelter more often, which saves money in the long run as it cuts down on how often outside vets are brought in, Hill said.

Standardizing the food shelter pets eat led to fewer health problems, as did switching to a newer and cheaper disinfectant.

“We are now feeding primarily one brand of food supplemented by the donations, so we’ve seen a significant drop in animals with upset stomachs,” Hill said.

“Thrifty shopping” led Hill to a less expensive supplier of microchips, which means more pets can be microchipped at the animal control’s free microchipping clinics.

“We’ve been working hard to get grants for spay-neuter and the free microchipping clinics that are more accessible to the public. We never had microchip clinics previously, and that’s a result of Pet Smart and No Kill Glynn County.

“It’s also selfish on our part. If more pets are spayed or neutered, there’s going to be fewer pets coming into the shelter. If more pets are microchipped we can get them back to their families,” Hill said.

She also referenced the higher frequency of pet quarantines at the shelter due to ringworm outbreaks.

“One of the things that we’re doing this year as opposed to last year is instead of immediately euthanizing animals with a contagious disease is find a (pet) rescue (organization) who will take them or treat them on-site (at the shelter),” Hill said. “Treating them on-site means we have to quarantine them in the facility.”

She attributed the outbreaks to two factors.

“We’ve got two things going on. One thing is that this has been a wet year, and wet and hot is perfect for ringworm. We’ve had a lot of animals coming in and you can’t always catch it when they’re coming in,” Hill said.

Another likely cause is higher-than-average numbers of stray dogs and cats coming into the facility.

“There has been a couple of business who have been putting some focused effort into catching especially stray cats around their property, so that has increased the intake especially of stray cats,” Hill said.

She hopes to begin clearing quarantined pets next week.

Looking ahead to 2019, Hill said animal control will put more resources into communication with the public and public education efforts.

“Over the next year I think we’re going to continue to grow our outreach for finding homes for the dogs and cats in our community,” Hill said.

To get the public more involved, she added that animal control will resume its monthly volunteer training classes.

“And we do accept court-ordered community service volunteers,” Hill said.

For more information call the shelter at 912-554-7500.

Sea Island responds to spit lawsuits
 wwolfe  / 

Sea Island Acquisition received the green light Dec. 19 from U.S. Magistrate Judge James Graham, formally allowing the company to join, as a defendant, a lawsuit brought by conservation groups against the Army Corps of Engineers for granting permission to build a southern groin on the Sea Island spit to facilitate further development.

In responses Dec. 19 and again Friday, Sea Island answered complaints brought by the Altamaha Riverkeeper and One Hundred Miles, along with Center for a Sustainable Coast, as the groups brought the complaints in two separate actions before agreeing to join together in one effort.

A common theme running through both responses is Sea Island states it went through all of the appropriate measures to receive the approval of the various governmental agencies involved, and the conservation groups don’t have a viable claim to which relief can be granted by the court.

The permit, which Sea Island received, allows the “construction of a new T-head groin in front of The Reserve at Sea Island, … dredging of between (1.315 million) and (2.5 million) cubic yards of sand from an offshore source, and … nourishment of more than 17,000 linear feet of beach on Sea Island….”

In Paragraph 26 of the complaint filed by the Riverkeeper and OHM, it states that the southern portion of Sea Island “contains a fragile, undeveloped area called the spit that provides significant habitat for state and federally protected sea turtles, shorebirds and other species.”

Attorneys for Sea Island argue the company’s taken steps to preserve part of the spit that’s not going to be developed, conveying it to the St. Simons Land Trust through a conservation easement in 2015.

According to the response, “Sea Island admits the southernmost portion of the island is sometimes visited by residents of Sea Island, visitors to Sea Island, and others, and that the area is used for paddling, surfing, bird-watching and walking, and that this portion of Sea Island is subject to a conservation easement as noted in response to Paragraph 26.”

In a general way, Sea Island denies that construction of the new groin will lead to the detrimental environmental effects claimed by the conservation groups. The response also mentions there was no objection to the permit from the nongame conservation section of state Department of Natural Resources’ Wildlife Resources Division, and that the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service didn’t request a denial for “the revised application which led to the permit that is at issue in this litigation.”

In its response to the CSC complaint, Sea Island admits to understanding the spit, “like all beaches and barrier islands, is important to the sand-sharing system that includes the beaches and shoreline of St. Simons, including the East Beach area.”

And in regard to a CSC claim made regarding the application of the National Environmental Policy Act, Sea Island refers to previous approvals made throughout the process.

As stated in the response, “Sea Island avers that over the past three years, the project was review and approved by the Georgia Shore Protection Committee, an administrative law judge with the Georgia Office of State Administrative Hearings, and the Superior Court of Fulton County in the state of Georgia; further appeals were abandoned by a similarly situated environmental advocacy group that has an established relationship to plaintiff in this matter.”

In both responses, Sea Island asks the court to dismiss the complaints, award Sea Island costs incurred during the litigation along with attorney’s fees, and whatever else the court sees fit.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Randal Hall denied Dec. 10 a motion for preliminary injunction brought by the Riverkeeper and OHM to halt construction of the groin.