Allegheny Distilling, Army Corps of Engineers feeling effects of shutdown


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More than two years in the making, Tim Russell's Strip District distillery was just about ready to start selling rum.

He'd secured the necessary federal and state licensing to open Allegheny Distilling, said Mr. Russell, 31, of Bloomfield. And last week, he started his first batch of what he'll call Maggie's Farm rum, predicting that by next week, it will be ready to bottle.

All that was left was to get his labeling approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, then he could start selling.

But that step is now on hold.

The bureau, part of the Treasury Department, is included in the federal government shutdown, and Mr. Russell, to his frustration, is one of the many Americans beginning to feel the effect of the closures.

"I can keep working," he said today. "I can keep bottling. I just can't make any money."

On its second day, the impact of the shutdown that began in Washington, D.C. can be seen throughout the Pittsburgh area, with people such as Mr. Russell and agencies such as the Army Corps of Engineers expressing worry about what may happen if the shutdown is prolonged.

For now, the Army Corps has halted its routine maintenance of locks and dams, a development that public affairs specialist Dan Jones said is "absolutely" a source of worry for the Corps' Pittsburgh office.

"Most of our locks and dams are well past their design life, and they require that daily care to keep them functioning properly," he said. "Without that, we really don't know what will happen."

In the Pittsburgh pool, the Corps oversees 23 locks and dams, as well as 16 flood damage reduction reservoirs.

Western Pennsylvania has some of the oldest locks and dams in the country, and officials from both the Corps and river industries have long warned that failure of heavily traveled locks or dams could halt river traffic and have serious economic consequences.

Construction projects at the locks will continue if they have been funded, but any modifications to design may require them to come to a stop, Mr. Jones said.

Throughout the shutdown, the Corps will operate at a minimum staffing level. Mr. Jones would not provide the exact number of people who have been furloughed, but he said it is "in the hundreds."

The Corps still have a responsibility to protect life and safety, so employees related to flood damage and navigation have not and will not be furloughed, he said.

Employees who have not been furloughed have been told they will be paid, but have not been told when, Mr. Jones said.

Throughout the shutdown, traffic will continue moving on the rivers, but Mr. Jones said recreational boaters may notice delays in moving through locks. The Corps sent out a notice today saying all its recreation areas, including the campgrounds at Youghiogheny River Lake, East Branch Lake and Tionesta Lake, are closed.

Meanwhile, at the U.S. Courthouse in Pittsburgh, top officials met to plan for the possibility that a lengthy government shutdown could affect the judiciary.

Clerk of Court Robert V. Barth Jr. said he met with District Chief Judge Joy Flowers Conti and other judges, and will now circulate a draft plan to the U.S. Attorney's Office, Federal Public Defender, U.S. Marshals Service and Probation and Pretrial Services.

Court administration in Washington, D.C., according to Mr. Barth, is "telling the judges not to make any distinction between civil and criminal." Neither type of case would be fast-tracked at the expense of the other.

The court-related agencies are to provide comments on the model by Oct. 7, and the Board of Judges would adopt a final plan by Oct. 11. The federal judiciary is funded in part with fees, and has enough money to get to Oct. 15 without altering operations.

Mr. Barth said the first step is to determine which functions are "essential," and then which employees are needed to perform those functions. Those employees could be required to work without pay during the shutdown, and would be paid for their time when government funding resumes.

He said judges would continue to be paid during the shutdown. It's unclear yet whether court security officers would be paid, or deemed essential and compelled to work without regular paychecks after Oct. 15.

A naturalization ceremony for new citizens is set for Oct. 18, and Mr. Barth said that sufficient court staff would be available, assuming Department of Homeland Security employees are able to complete the necessary paperwork for the applicants by then.

Although some federal military cemeteries have shut down, the National Cemetery of the Alleghenies in Cecil remains open for now.

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Kaitlynn Riely: kriely@post-gazette.com. Rich Lord: rlord@post-gazette.com.


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