• Senate finance subcommittee puts Kachemak Bay Research Reserve funds back in operating budget
By Hannah Heimbuch
The Kachemak Bay Research Reserve is looking at a brighter future for now, after a move by the Senate Finance Fish and Game Subcommittee reinstated the $175,000 in state funds back its annual budget.
Reserve leaders and supporters are hoping this appropriation will keep the research organization operational long enough to find another funding partner.
While the operating budget allowance makes up just 10 percent of the Reserve budget, it’s the state match required to secure a much larger chunk of funding from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. The loss of the state funding, without a different department to replace it, could mean loss of the Reserve’s remaining funding, and potentially repayment to NOAA for their investments in Reserve property and facilities at the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center.
This is a domino effect they’re hoping to avoid, said Reserve Community Council Chair George Matz.
“We’ve had really strong support,” Matz said. “That message has really gotten across to the Legislature. If they hadn’t heard of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve, they have now.”
Right now, the Reserve’s state match comes under the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s Sport Division funding. That partnership emerged after state leaders pulled the Reserve’s previous umbrella — the Habitat Division.
While Reserve work does overlap with Sport Fish Division objectives, their missions diverge in places, and some at the department are concerned that the partnership is no longer an appropriate fit. When Fish and Game faced the need for budget cuts this session, the Reserve’s $175,000 came off the ticket.
“The Sport Fish Division wants to essentially divest themselves of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve,” Matz said.
That being said, Matz doesn’t believe that Fish and Game deliberately set out to close down the Reserve, but the funding decisions made in the House finance committees earlier in the month looked as if they might do just that.
The reinstatement of the funds is indeed good news, said Homer City Manager Walt Wrede on Friday.
The City of Homer has been an outspoken supporter of maintaining reserve funding through Fish and Game until a different match organization can be established. The Homer City Council passed a resolution supporting the funding, and the city lobbyist has been working hard in Juneau to garner support for it from members of the Legislature, Wrede said.
The Research Reserve serves Homer, and Alaska in general, on many levels, he said, both as an important member of the scientific community – research and education – and as a source of 10 full-time jobs in Homer.
“They do really important research, and in fact we’ve worked with them on certain research projects,” Wrede said.
For example, the city was interested in the research the Reserve is doing on sea level rise and isostatic rebound in Kachemak Bay – measuring the rate that the earth of this region is actually shifting up as pressure from glaciers and ice sheets recedes.
“That’s the kind of research that has practical applications for a city, which is trying to plan for new development and coastal protections,” Wrede said.
But that’s not the only reason they’re supporting continued funding.
“We think they’re doing good work,” Wrede said. “But also, it’s jobs. It’s year-round, good paying jobs. It’s clean. It’s research.”
The Kachemak Bay Research Reserve also runs educational programs that bring not only local students, but school groups from around south-central Alaska into the Discovery Lab, Matz said.
“One of the things we’re trying to overcome is there’s this perception of the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve being a Homer project,” Matz said. “And it’s not just a Homer project. We have this education that goes on.”
The Reserve also shares office space with the U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife in the Islands and Ocean Visitor Center. There has been concern that, without the Reserve’s role there, the Visitor Center could potentially close.
Some possibilities for new partners are already being explored, Matz said, with the help of Fish and Game. That includes a possible collaboration with the University of Alaska Fairbanks. This would be an appropriate and positive move for the Reserve, Matz said, especially considering its focus on research and education.
This latest re-addition to the appropriations budget, since it was not in the House-approved version, will need to pass muster with the conference committee before funding is guaranteed, Matz said.
“We all feel a lot more relieved because we don’t anticipate any problem in the conference committee,” he said, “but politics as it is, you can’t be totally assured until everything is signed and sealed.”
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