Monday, February 7, 2011

Time to defend Waddell again

Bluffton Today

With all that happened this week in Columbia, as well as the topics broached in last week’s column, we had a record number of constituent contacts.

Unfortunately, we had e-mail problems both in Bluffton and at the Statehouse, so we couldn’t get a precise count. Those e-mail problems also made for difficulty in getting back to you on your questions or responding to your contributions. Some e-mail came in duplicate or triplicate while some didn’t make it at all. We will, as always, work through this and get back to you. If you don’t hear from me within a reasonable time, please resend your traffic.

It is crucial we remain in good contact. For any difficulty you may have experienced, we apologize. Each session, there are always new challenges to confront, a few new faces in the seats, different staff with the new governor or cabinet secretaries. Each session, I am also called on to defend our Waddell Mariculture Center. Good times or not so good times, there is always a move to eliminate this state-supported jewel from the budget, or somehow make its mission appear less valuable than other installations.

A couple of times, we had the Coastal Caucus down to the Mariculture Center for our annual meeting, which always takes the pressure off. When Al Stokes and his crew have an opportunity to explain their mission to my legislative colleagues, how a very modest state investment is so handsomely returned, the Coastal Caucus folks always support me as I make the case for the center. Unfortunately, this new session brings a new threat to the Waddell Mariculture Center, along with what is left of our Department of Natural Resources.

S.407 is a bill making its way through the senate that would take a portion of fees collected for fishing licenses and transferring those dollars to welfare, prisons and education. Supporters of this ill-conceived measure promise to restore the funding to DNR after the financial emergency, but you and I know that once the shift is made, those dollars are gone forever.

Fishing licenses are a user fee that supports a thriving industry in the Lowcountry. We expect those fees to go to enforcing the rules of fisheries management and supporting those programs that enhance the commercial and recreational fishing business. Diverting those user fees to other needs, regardless of seriousness, is something I will oppose with all that I am able to muster.

I am convinced that an already barebones Department of Natural Resources will not survive the diversion of even a portion of its funding. Al Stokes and the Waddell Mariculture Center have for years been doing world-class research and industry support on a tiny state appropriation, a few grants and contributions from the public. In better times, we will be able to enhance their funding so they can do some of the deferred maintenance that has essentially been accomplished with baling wire and duct tape.

Friends, the Heritage is in jeopardy, Hunting Island is eroding away, renourishment dollars for Hilton Head beaches are becoming even more scarce, and the Chambers of Commerce are working harder and harder to simply stay even with our tourism competitors. Can we afford to now allow our natural resources to be diminished for lack of even a modicum of professional management and support? I say NO, this will not happen on my watch.