Beaufort News

Council denies estuarium funding request; curator says doors will close next week

The Lowcountry Estuarium has received about $1,000 in donations since its precarious financial position became public. But curator Bob Bender says that's not enough to keep the lights on and the doors open after this week.

Beaufort County Council considered giving the group $3,000 in accommodations-tax money Monday, but the motion failed on a 5-5 vote, with Councilwoman Laura Von Harten absent.

Without money to pay rent and utilities for August, the estuarium will open for the last time Saturday. Afterward, the dozen or so aquariums and their inhabitants will move back in with Bender.

"We will continue as a virtual estuarium," he told the council. "We're not dead. We're just no longer a brick-and-mortar facility that is bringing tourists."

Bender had requested a one-time infusion of $24,000, which he said would give the estuarium breathing room to restructure. That figure was reduced to $3,000, which council said would tide the group over until the formal accommodations-tax allocation process begins in August.

Several council members were willing to extend the lifeline.

"In this case, I'm going to gamble on the fact that Mr. Bender, with a little bit of extra time, might be able to pull a rabbit out of a hat," said Councilman Rick Caporale.

Others disagreed.

"It's a good program, but I don't think it's the county's responsibility to be funding it," said Councilman Brian Flewelling.

Some members expressed concern that considering accommodations-tax allocations outside of the normal process wouldn't be fair to other groups that might be equally worthy.

Council Chairman Weston Newton said he hoped private donors would help the estuarium "find a way to keep their doors open long enough to participate in that competitive process a month from now."

The motion to fund the estuarium failed, with Councilmen Flewelling, Newton, Gerald Dawson, Paul Sommerville and Bill McBride voting "no."

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