Traverse City Record-Eagle

March 6, 2013

Sequester cuts would affect airport, tourists, students

Traverse City Record-Eagle

---- — TRAVERSE CITY — Air traffic controllers at Cherry Capital Airport, a handful of the neediest college students and summer tourists will feel the pinch of the federal sequester cuts.

Federal lawmakers originally wrote mandatory budget cuts in to the 2011 Budget Control Act as a ploy to force Republican and Democrats to agree on a national deficit reduction plan.

But Congress and the president failed to reach a bipartisan debt deal. Across-the-board cuts intended to reduce the national debt by $1.2 trillion over nine years began March 1.

Airline travelers might see longer lines and delays at major airports due to mandatory furloughs. At Cherry Capital Airport, air traffic controllers and Transportation Security Administration staff must also take forced, unpaid days off, said Kevin Klein, airport director.

“But the number of bodies up in the tower really is not changing,” Klein said.

Administrative staff will help cover tower shifts and security lines to make up for the furloughs.

“Hopefully our political officials will get it together and get this fixed,” Klein said.

At Northwestern Michigan College, the sequester will hike loan fees for students borrowing money for next year by a small amount, said Pam Palermo, director of financial aid.

The biggest effect for students will be $10,000 trimmed from work study funds and another $10,000 cut from the Federal Supplemental Educational Opportunity Grant.

The amount isn’t huge, she said, but it hurts the “neediest of the neediest.”

Traverse City Area Public Schools Superintendent Stephen Cousins said local districts don’t expect federal funding cuts until July 1.

But then the district stands to lose grants that help disabled and disadvantaged students.

Northern lower Michigan’s summer tourism industry could feel some of the worst impacts of the mandatory spending cuts.

Sequestration means a shorter operating season at Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, said Tom Ulrich, the park’s deputy superintendent.

Some parts of the park, like the popular Pierce Stocking Scenic Drive, were slated to open in April and close in November. Now they will be open only from Memorial Day to Labor Day.

Vault toilets and garbage cans throughout the park will also be reduced.

The most immediate cuts at the park impact the schools that visit the dunes in droves throughout April and May, Ulrich said.

“On a daily basis we are turning away requests from area schools,” Ulrich said.

The sequester impacts the park’s environmental services, too. Seasonal biologists who combat invasive weeds and protect endangered species such as the piping plover shorebird will face cutbacks.

The park generates about $132 million and roughly 2,300 jobs for the local economy based on 2011 visitation statistics, Ulrich said.

“It’s hard to say what the impact will be on those figures,” Ulrich said. “My guess is they’re not going to go up. If anything they will go down.”

On the bright side, the sequester might actually give northern harbor towns a big tourism boost. That’s because Michigan is the only Great Lakes state that doesn’t depend on federal money for dredging of recreational harbors, said Russell Dzuba, harbormaster for Leland Township.

Commercial harbors in Michigan, such as the one in Manistee, do depend on federal money, but the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers hasn’t decided how the sequester will affect individual harbors, Corps spokeswoman Lynn Rose said.