West officials say the federal government shutdown doesn’t appear to threaten the recovery of the town, about six months after a devastating fertilizer plant explosion.
But the shutdown will hamper a federal investigation of what caused the disaster.
The U.S. Chemical Safety Board is among many “nonessential” agencies effectively closed by Congress’ failure this week to keep the government running.
The agency, which reviews chemical disasters, has been working to create models of the fertilizer plant and the explosion, managing director Daniel Horowitz said Tuesday.
“Our whole team (for the West investigation) is furloughed,” he said. “We have a large team who has this as a full-time assignment. This is far and away what we’re spending most of our time on.”
Horowitz said the CSB has been looking not only at how the detonation started but what fire codes and regulations could prevent such disasters in the future.
He said he had hoped to have a meeting in West this fall to discuss the progress of the investigation, but the shutdown makes the timing uncertain.
Meanwhile, West Mayor Tommy Muska said he hasn’t seen any indication that federal recovery efforts are slowing down.
He said a representative of the Federal Emergency Management Agency came to West on Tuesday to walk down Davis Street with the city’s engineers to determine what damage could be repaired with federal funds.
Regional FEMA officials referred calls about the shutdown to the Washington, D.C., office, which did not return calls Tuesday afternoon.
Meanwhile, the Small Business Administration, which is providing financing to many uninsured West homeowners, has shut down most of its lending, but emergency loans are exempted from the shutdown.
Muska said he is not sure what stage of the SBA loan process West property owners are in.
“I know the government doesn’t work very fast, so they might not even be processed yet,” he said.