Advocates for the Kachemak Bay Research Reserve in Homer breathed a sigh of relief last week when the Senate Finance Committee reinserted $175,000 in state funding back into the budget. But the budget battle is not quite over just yet.
Earlier in the legislative session, the reserve was facing a $175,000 cut in state funds. Money for the KBRR comes through the Sport Fish Division of the Alaska Department of Fish and Game. The Sport Fish Division has been dealing with declining revenues for the last few years because of a decrease in sport fishing license fees and federal receipts from sales of fishing gear. And, in general, the state is facing a roughly billion dollar budget shortfall for next year.
Homer Representative Paul Seaton says he is pleased the money has been put back into the Senate's version of the budget. He says the House is not looking at the operating budget right now but will be when the Senate’s version is debated in conference committee.
Seaton and Senator Peter Micciche have both been lobbying their fellow legislators on the importance of the research reserve’s mission.
During a town hall meeting in Homer earlier this month, Micciche heard from employees of the reserve about how they often host students form Anchorage and the Mat-Su Valley. He said that would be valuable information to take back with him to Juneau – information he could use to convince some of his colleagues of the reserve’s importance.
Seaton agrees that the mission to educate legislators about the reserve has been successful. For the long-term, however, he says the Department of Fish and Game might not be the best fit for the reserve. He is exploring other options.
"There's some looks with the university ... that would probably be a better research fit," he said.
Seaton says new private partners could be an option for the reserve, or even a local match coming in from the City of Homer or Kenai Peninsula Borough. The reserve needs about $300,000 each year to capture enough federal matching funds to be fully functional.
He says the full Senate is hearing testimony on the budget this week but it might be the end of the legislative session before it’s certain if funding for the reserve will remain. The legislative session is set to gavel out April 20th.