ERWIN — Language contained within a bill awaiting consideration by the U.S. House of Representatives would, if passed, allow the Erwin National Fish Hatchery and other mitigation hatcheries across the country to continue operations for at least another year.
The Erwin hatchery and eight other mitigation hatcheries across the country were facing closure in the upcoming federal fiscal year due to funding cuts. The U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service’s proposed budget for the 2012 fiscal year called for an approximate decrease of $6.3 million in the base funding of national fish hatchery operations despite a proposed increase of nearly $48 million in funding over the 2010 fiscal year.
The department’s proposed budget stated that unless reimbursement was received from several agencies for previous fish mitigation related to federal water infrastructure projects, the proposed funding cut could lead to Fisheries Program activities being “eliminated or substantially reduced” at mitigation hatchery facilities.
In the House Interior and Environment Appropriations bill for the 2012 fiscal year, the House Subcommittee on the Department of the Interior Appropriations calls for nearly $3.4 million be restored in base funding for hatchery operations. The bill report states that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is set to receive a reimbursement of $3.8 million from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for hatcheries to raise fish to stock behind the agency’s dam projects. If passed, the proposal would provide hatcheries with more than $7 million to operate with in the 2012 fiscal year.
“The Committee has restored the proposed $3,388,000 shortfall in the budget for mitigation hatchery operations and critical supplies, with the understanding that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will reimburse the Service an amount of $3,800,000 during fiscal year 2012, subject to appropriations. The Committee directs the Service to continue to seek reimbursement from the remaining agencies for mitigation hatchery operations, and to redirect any additional reimbursed funding to deferred maintenance,” the bill report states.
Erwin National Fish Hatchery Manager John Robinette said U.S. congressmen in districts affected by the potential closures of the mitigation hatcheries have been working to restoring the funding necessary for the operation of the hatcheries. He said the bipartisan efforts of U.S. Rep. Phil Roe, R-1st, and Democratic U.S. Rep. David Price, a Unicoi County native who represents North Carolina’s 4th District, were instrumental in this.
Roe has previously written letters in support of the hatcheries to members of the Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and leaders in the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
“While we recognize that difficult budget choices must be made, we think the proposed changes are short-sighted and would have a devastating impact on communities throughout the country. We believe the mitigation hatcheries are worthy of the relatively small amount of federal support they receive annually, and encourage you to identify ways to continue to fund mitigation programs this year,” Roe wrote in his letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service.
According to a 2010 economic assessment of economic contributions from hatcheries and aquatic resource conservation completed by Dr. James Caudill and Dr. John Charbonneau, the hatcheries located in the Southeastern region of the country have a total economic impact of nearly $300 million annually and generate a return of $67 for each taxpayer spent on their operations.
“Closing this hatchery would, economically, be really bad for our community here,” Robinette said.
Aside from the efforts of congressmen such as Roe and Price, the governmental bodies in Unicoi County have previously passed resolutions in support of the Erwin National Fish Hatchery. The maintaining of mitigation hatcheries was also the subject of a petition on the website thepetitionsite.com, which garnered a number of online signatures from people across the country against their closure.
“The hatchery, the crew at the hatchery, and the community greatly appreciates the efforts of Congressman Roe,” Robinette said.
If approved by the House, the bill would still have to be approved by the Senate and the president would have to sign off on it.
While Unicoi County Mayor Greg Lynch said that now is the time to get people thinking of the Erwin hatchery past the federal 2012 fiscal year, he said the possibility of the facility getting to operate for another year is good news.
“I never have been one who gripes about the federal government, because I feel we’re sort of blessed to have what we have, but it would get under my skin for them to take it,” Lynch said of the hatchery. “I think that’s why the community rose up the way it did in support of it. The community just realizes the importance of it now.”
The federal government’s 2012 fiscal year begins on Oct. 1 and ends on Sept. 30, 2012.