Mariculture center support good for whole state

info@islandpacket.comJuly 1, 2013 

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Al Stokes, director of the Waddell Mariculture Center, is shown inside the building that houses the fish hatchery where water and structural damage continues to cause problems.

SARAH WELLIVER — Staff photo Buy Photo

It took persuasion and persistence, but Waddell Mariculture Center finally got operating money from state lawmakers for the first time in years.

When the budget process ended Thursday, the research center on the Colleton River near Bluffton had $353,000. Unfortunately, $903,000 for repairs to the facility didn't make it. Still, this should be considered a victory for the center.

State Reps. Bill Herbkersman and Weston Newton and Sen. Tom Davis pushed hard to get the operating money and the money for repairs. That they came up empty-handed on repairs doesn't take away from what they accomplished. They got their colleagues to understand what the mariculture center does and why it is important to South Carolina, its fisheries and its economy.

The center's research supports South Carolina's more than $1 billion fishing industry and provides important support for protecting the state's natural resources.

For a time, it didn't look good for the center. While the House included money for operations and facility repairs in its budget, the Senate dropped the $903,000 for repairs. Efforts failed to get the money back in the budget during negotiations to reconcile the two versions.

Then Gov. Nikki Haley vetoed the operating money. In her veto statement, she said she didn't support the ongoing funding, but would consider one-time funding if money were available next year.

In short, lawmakers said yes to operating money, but no to one-time money to fix the building. Haley said no to the operating money, but indicated she'd support one-time money for the facility.

Not surprisingly, the House easily overturned her veto with a 114-2 vote Wednesday. But it wasn't so easy in the Senate. Davis said he'd never worked as hard to line up votes as he did to override this veto. It takes a two-thirds vote in both the House and Senate to overturn. Davis smartly got the vote on the Waddell funding moved to later in the day to give himself more time to line up the votes.

"I spent four hours educating the members on what Waddell does for the state on a shoestring budget," he said.

It worked. The Senate voted 36-6 to overturn Haley's veto.

The good news, Davis says, is that the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee say they support repairing the facility and will find a way to do so from existing funding for the Department of Natural Resources or from reserves.

There's no reason to delay critical repairs, especially now that lawmakers have acknowledged the important work the center does.

Davis, Newton and Herbkersman are to be commended for rounding up support and money for a local project for the right reason -- it's good for the state of South Carolina.

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