From: Patricia Smith, The Daily News, Jacksonville, N.C.
Published May 9, 2005 12:00 AM

Coastal Federation Lobbyist Hopeful on Oyster Restoration Program Funding

Oysters can be slippery.

And money to expand a North Carolina state oyster restoration program that Gov. Mike Easley proposed spending this year didn't stay put to make it into the draft budget passed by the Senate last week. Neither did funding sought by the Department of Environment and Natural Resources for implementation of recommendations in the Coastal Habitat Protection Plan.

But the glass is half full, said Jim Stephenson, lobbyist for the North Carolina Coastal Federation, an environmental group that pushed for both initiatives.

"The budget process is at a mid-point so we're still very optimistic that some added funds will be provided by the House," Stephenson said.

Easley's proposed budget, released in February, recommended increasing spending for the Division of Marine Fisheries oyster rehabilitation program by $690,341 in fiscal year 2005-2006 and $842,121 in 2006-07. Easley also recommended spending $210,000 in 2005-2006 and $275,000 in 2006-2007 for Coastal Habitat Protection Plan initiatives. Neither was included in the Senate's proposed budget.

While funding for oyster rehabilitation had been in earlier drafts considered by a Senate appropriations sub-committee, it was cut before the final budget was approved, said DENR Policy Analyst Steve Wall.

Added in the Senate proposal was $600,000 for each of the two years for the Division of North Carolina Aquariums to plan for the development of an oyster hatchery and public education program at each of the three state aquariums.

Senate President Pro-tem Marc Basnight, D-Manteo, announced this idea at a Coastal Federation oyster summit the same day Easley's proposed budget was released. Sen. Scott Thomas, D-Craven, later introduced a bill to this effect.

Fisheries Director Preston Pate said increased funding for the oyster rehabilitation was a top budget priority this year for his agency. "The idea for a state hatchery has been around for a longtime," Pate said. DMF supported the notion as part of a bigger package that focused on restoring the state's oyster populations, as well as looking at ways to improve water quality.

"All of a sudden that's turned into being the only part of the package," Pate said. "It all needs to go together and there needs to be increased funding for all of it for it to work."

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Source: Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News

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