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Sequestered federal budget prompts possible fish lab furloughs

MONTAGUE — Congress’s inability to pass a budget should make itself felt locally beginning next month with furloughs of Conte fish lab employees.

Run by the U.S. Geological Survey, the Conte Anadromous Fish Research Laboratory, at One Migratory Way in Turners Falls, is a branch of the West Virginia-based Leetown Science Center and exists to study anadromous fish to support salmon restoration efforts.

The Center’s website lists 23 employees, including contractors, at the lab.

USGS press officer Anne-Berry Wade said all USGS employees, including herself, this week received letters from supervisors notifying them of “proposed furloughs” of not more than five days for every full-time employee, pro-rated for part-time employees.

Wade said the furloughs are to take effect between June 17 and Sept. 7, and may be less than the full five days as the agency continues to tighten spending in other areas such as travel and training.

The furloughs are in response to an agency budget trimmed through sequestration, Wade said, and cuts were made in other areas before moving into pay.

“You can trim off up to a point, and then when you have trimmed all the fat away and you are cutting into the muscle and the bone, at that point you’re like, ‘OK, now we have to dip into people’s salaries,’” Wade said.

The agency employs approximately 8,500 people nationwide and its work includes monitoring of earthquakes, volcanoes and water levels for flooding. Furlough scheduling is up to the individual offices, Wade said, but is not likely to be simultaneous.

Wade said the five-day limit was welcome news compared to the 22 days discussed earlier.

Terri Edwards, chief of public affairs for the Northeast Region of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service — which operates the Richard Cronin National Salmon Station and Connecticut River Coordinator’s office in Sunderland and co-staffs the Great Falls Discovery Center in Turners Falls — said no furloughs are anticipated for that agency’s employees this fiscal year. The federal fiscal year ends Sept. 30.

Edwards said the agency has kept some positions open following retirements and is hiring fewer seasonal employees this summer.

You can reach Chris Curtis at:
ccurtis@recorder.com
or 413-772-0261, ext. 257

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