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Furloughed EPA Workers Opt For Public Service

EPA Workers
Leoneda Inge

One of the largest EPA offices outside of Washington DC is in Research Triangle Park.  That means some 2,000 employees are at home and not working during the government shut-down.  But on Tuesday, a few dozen EPA workers could be found spending their un-wanted time off doing community service. 

If you work for the Environmental Protection Agency it’s safe to say you like the environment.  So it’s no surprise furloughed EPA workers are picking up trash, laying mulch and pruning small trees at Herndon Park near Southpoint in Durham.

Kelly Rimer and several of her co-workers are whacking at a thick vine that’s strangling a small bush.  And there’s poison ivy underneath. 

“I’ve been working for EPA since 1991 and so I was involved in the previous furlough which went three weeks. So, this is a little nerve-racking," said Rimer.

Rimer says technology has made a difference this time around. A new website is dedicated to posting announcements and getting the word out about public service activities, not like in 1995.

“It was sort of before everyone had email.  So, we had phone trees.  What we would do was wake up in the morning, we would call a number and get Carol Browner’s voice saying, don’t show up to work today.  And then we would connect with our phone tree and see if there was an event happening that day.  And if there was a volunteer opportunity we’d go out and do it.  Pretty much the same thing here, but except we’re using email and websites this time," said Rimer.

Dale Evarts helped out at Herndon Park.  The air quality expert has worked at the EPA for 25 years.  He says he’ll never forget the last major federal shutdown.

“Well we saved up our money, it was right over Christmas, so it was an awful time to have a shut down and pretty discouraging," said Evarts.

And then you have Mia South.  She and her husband work at the EPA in RTP.

“We have three boys, and the last time this happened we weren’t even married.  No kids, no house to think about.  So it’s much different now," said South.

At least the South children don’t have to go to day care.  Jenny Noonan is a director of Policy Analysis and Communications at the EPA and has a 2-year-old daughter, Rosie.  The day care in her building is also closed.

“Because the federal campus is closed we don’t have access to the day care.  So all the events we are planning, we are all mindful of the fact that there are going to be little people here too," said Noonan holding and talking to her daughter.  "Can you talk about what we did today? Did we pick up trash?”

John Wambaugh is a toxicologist at the EPA and the father of 9-month old Jude who can’t go to day care either.  Wambaugh says he’s upset about being furloughed but thinks work days like this one and bonding with Jude makes up for this man-made snow day.

“He’s only going to be 9-months for actually a few more days.  That’s the lucky thing," said Wambaugh.

Other EPA workdays planned for the rest of  the week include yard work at the local Ronald McDonald House and fixing a pier at Falls Lake.

Leoneda Inge is WUNC’s race and southern culture reporter, the first public radio journalist in the South to hold such a position. She also is co-host of the podcast Tested and host of the special podcast series, PAULI. Leoneda is the recipient of numerous awards from AP, RTDNA and NABJ. She’s been a reporting fellow in Berlin and Tokyo. You can follow her on Twitter @LeonedaInge.
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