Scientists, sea islanders and conservation groups are rallying to save a coastal agency that Gov. Nikki Haley wants to shut down.
The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium closed this week after Haley vetoed the state departments $428,000 budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year. That left about 20 Sea Grant employees out of work and $5.4 million in federal research dollars in jeopardy.
State lawmakers will meet in Columbia next week to vote on whether to override Haleys Sea Grant veto and others, including money for the S.C. Arts Commission.
Since Haleys vetoes, supporters of Sea Grant have sprung into action. A leader in the Gullah community of the Lowcountry has circulated a petition to restore funding for the research agency. The Conservation Voters of SC is calling on its boosters to contact legislators, while a former state regulator and a leading coastal scientist have joined the fray. School teachers who have worked with Sea Grant also are upset.
It seemed like she made a decision based on preliminary information without the knowledge or understanding of the value of the Sea Grant Consortium, said Fred Holland, a former director at the federal Hollings Marine Laboratory in Charleston. This veto seemed so naive. This is one agency doing research in this state and addressing our problems here in South Carolina.
Holland, a coastal scientist acclaimed for research on how stormwater pollution hurts Lowcountry creeks and marshes, wrote the governor to express his displeasure. He is urging legislators to restore Sea Grants state funds next week.
Coastal research is a major issue in South Carolina, a state whose shoreline attracts visitors and vacationers from across the country. Much of the states population lives, owns property or vacations in Myrtle Beach, Charleston or Hilton Head Island. Coastal studies, on issues such as how to improve the seafood industry or how coastal development affects water quality, are important to help guide growth and development, Sea Grant supporters say.
Haley vetoed funding for the Sea Grant consortium, saying the agencys services duplicate those of universities that can seek their own funding for research. The governor also vetoed the agency last year but was overridden by the Legislature.
Rob Godfrey, a spokesman for Haley, said Friday the governor is not opposed to scientific research. He noted that she has signed off on some $30 million in research funding this year for colleges and universities.
We dont need taxpayers paying for an entire state agency doing university grant writing for schools that already get state dollars, Godfrey said in an email.
The S.C. Sea Grant Consortium is part of a national network of 32 similar agencies in coastal states that receive federal funding for scientific research.
Founded more than three decades ago, the S.C. agency helps launch scientific studies in the state by seeking federal funds and assembling teams of scientists to do the work. The agency is credited with bringing $53 million to South Carolina in federal and nonstate dollars for research since 2000. Of that, the state spent about $5.2 million, supporters said.
In recent years, Sea Grant-initiated research projects have helped efforts to restore populations of dwindling fish such as the red drum, limited the advance of toxic algae in coastal waterways and increased understanding of how pavement pollutes tidal creeks with tainted runoff. The agencys research also has helped establish aquaculture farms, where seafood is raised for sale.
Haleys veto and closure of the agency jeopardizes an array of research projects, records show. Among those are a study on how beach renourishment work is affecting offshore areas where sand is mined to widen the seashore. A key question that could be answered is whether communities might be able to get sand more than once from offshore mining sites at a time when sand supplies are harder to find for shoreline widening, said Sea Grant director Rick DeVoe. Another is a study on how to establish a seafood trail, a way to help coastal communities benefit more from the industry. Those projects would be difficult to complete without additional federal funds, DeVoe said.
The $5.4 million for research has been authorized by the federal government for South Carolina, but Sea Grant must be available to draw down on the research funds, agency officials say. In addition to its role in helping to win grants for coastal research, the Sea Grant consortium also puts out a magazine that will cease publication if the state funding is not restored.
Sea Grant boosters say that while Sea Grant foes say Haley is vetoing about $6 million for the agency, only $428,000 of that is state money. The rest is the $5.4 million that would come in, only if the agency stays open to seek the research money.
Without a state Sea Grant office, we cant compete for these research dollars, said Ann Timberlake, director of the Conservation Voters of South Carolina, in a mass email urging people to contact lawmakers.
The sea islanders petition, put together by Queen Quet Marquetta Goodwine of St. Helena Island, urges state lawmakers to override the governors veto. As of Friday, about 200 had signed the petition online. Queen Quet is a ranking member of the Gullah-Geechee nation, composed of African-Americans who live on the sea islands of South Carolina, Florida and Georgia.
Republican conservationist Chester Sansbury, a former Department of Health and Environmental Control assistant water bureau chief, said Haleys decision means other states will gain at South Carolinas expense.
This is not common sense, Sansbury said. There are so many programs and good things for the common good that depend on federal funding. We are already sending tax money to Washington anyway, so we ought to get some of it back.