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Government shutdown may halt Craig hospital construction

CRAIG — The government shutdown may scuttle a multimillion-dollar hospital construction project in Craig and threaten other similar projects in Colorado and across the country.

The construction of a new $29 million medical office building adjacent to the Memorial Regional Health hospital broke ground in April 2018. The hospital is now 10 months into an 18-month project that will see several floors of modern office space added to replace Craig's medical clinic and former hospital.

Many in the Craig and Moffat County communities are invested in the project after donating money to the MRH Foundation as part of a fundraising effort to build the new medical offices, according to previous Craig Press reporting.

But, in a Jan. 9 letter sent to President Donald Trump and several members of Congress — including U.S Rep. Scott Tipton, R-Cortez — MRH CEO Andy Daniels said the government shutdown has stopped the flow of construction dollars from a major United States Department of Agriculture loan being used to build the new medical office.

"Temporary financing is provided to Memorial Regional Health by Western Alliance Bank. However, to continue ‘construction draws,’ USDA requires Western Alliance Bank to obtain ‘consent’ from USDA to fund advances," Daniels said in the letter. "While the shutdown continues, no advances are being issued to pay invoices for construction contracts, which could result in defaults, if prolonged."

Daniels said the construction project and MHR's cash flow for the project are both in jeopardy.

"… this will have a negative impact on our cash flow and, ultimately, Memorial Regional Health will have to shut down construction of this project, as we will not be able to provide enough cash from operations to continue construction," Daniels' wrote in the letter.

Daniels said MRH's credit may also be negatively impacted.

"From the perspective of Western Alliance Bank, MRH will become a ‘credit risk.’ and we fear litigation from general contractors," Daniels' letter reads. "I urge you to work collaboratively (but quickly) with all branches of government to resolve this partial shutdown."

Tipton responded to Daniels' letter Wednesday, thanking MRH's CEO for outlining the impact of the government shutdown on MRH.

"I agree that both chambers of Congress and the White House must engage in a collaborative process to resolve the partial shutdown and ensure programs that benefit Colorado, like the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Rural Development Community Facilities Direct and Guaranteed Loan Program, function effectively," Tipton wrote in his response. "Overcoming the current impasse will require compromise from all political leaders. I will be sure to share your comments with the House of Representatives leadership."

In an interview Thursday, Daniels said MRH will likely be able to make another two months worth of payments on existing financial obligations before the project will have to stop, probably sometime in March.

"We can cover January's probably, February's maybe, but by March, it's done," Daniels said. "We won't be able to do it."

Daniels said Tipton and the rest of congress — Democrats and Republicans — should do the right thing and end the shutdown.

"That would be my message to both Democrats, Republicans, and the president," Daniels said. "Stop playing politics, and let’s get it open."

Other local government closures

The Craig Press attempted to call the local USDA office to learn if other similar ongoing construction projects in the Yampa Valley, the state of Colorado, or across the country would be threatened by the shutdown, but Craig's USDA office was not available. When contact with an operator was attempted, the office had the following automated message for callers.

"I'm not in the office at this time. I am on furlough due to a lack of government funding," the operator says before giving callers an email address or encouraging them to leave a voicemail. "Please note that I do not have access to email or voicemail due to the current lapse in funding. I look forward to returning your message once funding has been restored."

The Craig Press contacted the Browns Park National Wildlife Refuge and was able to speak with a volunteer, who declined to be identified, but said he was making sure the heat was still working in at least one building. A voicemail greeting from Daryl Magnuson, the park's director, greeted callers with this automated message:

"Due to a lapse in funding of the federal government budget, I am out of the office and I am not authorized to work at this time, but will respond to your message when I return to the office," the greeting said.

No one answered several different lines at Dinosaur National Monument, either, but an automated message on the park's river permit line stated the following:

"While the monument is accessible to the public during the lapse of federal appropriations, the National Park Service is unable to fully staff the properties under its management. It is not feasible to close or otherwise prohibit all access to NPS properties. Park visitors are advised to use extreme caution when choosing to enter NPS properties, as NPS personnel will not be available to provide guidance, assistance, maintenance, or emergency response. Any entry onto NPS property during this period of federal government shutdown is at the visitor's full risk."

The message does not repeat, and the line automatically hangs up after the message plays.

Sasha Nelson contributed to this report. Contact Clay Thorp at 970-875-1795 or cthorp@craigdailypress.com.