FAIRBANKS - Five Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program offices that faced an uncertain future earlier this year will stay open, following Gov. Sean Parnell's signing Thursday of the state's 2011 budget.
The MAP positions, located in Nome, Dillingham, Unalaska, Cordova and Petersburg, were all funded with short-term grants slated to end over the next 12 months, with no future funding established. A sixth MAP position, located in Kodiak, has been vacant for 13 years.
The Alaska House and Senate supported a legislative budget request by the University of Alaska that included $600,000 to make the MAP positions permanent. Public testimony and letters to the Alaska State Legislature came from across the state and included municipal and tribal governments, fishing associations, tourism operators, schools and educators, Alaska Native organizations, environmental groups and industry representatives.
The Alaska Legislature approved $300,000 in the university's operating budget to preserve the existing positions and the vacant one in Kodiak. The university will match the funding.
"This funding is important to coastal Alaskans, because it says the state and the university are committed to keeping marine advisory positions in these communities, and that the university is serious about investing long-term in coastal Alaska," said Paula Cullenberg, the leader of the Alaska Sea Grant Marine Advisory Program.
Around the state, MAP operates offices in 10 coastal communities, providing seafood industry workforce training, marine science K-12 education and small business development, as well as conducting collaborative research on marine mammals, seafood quality, shellfish aquaculture and other community-defined issues.
Cullenberg said the combined state and university funding will allow MAP agents to press ahead with their work in coastal communities.
"These funds allow us to make commitments to these communities and invest in long-term projects. We will be able to really think beyond the focus of a particular funding grant that we had in the past. With permanently funded MAP agents, we can address and have an impact on issues that are important to the region and the community," said Cullenberg.
One of the new initiatives is a project aimed at helping seafood processors, often the largest users of water, fuel and electricity in many coastal communities, lower their energy consumption. The project is a partnership with the state's Alaska Energy Authority.