USA: Beaufort County residents have long known how important the 30-year-old research station off Sawmill Creek Road is to South Carolina’s $1 billion saltwater fishing industry.
Longtime director Al Stokes and his crew stock fish and develop farming techniques to support sustainable domestic seafood. Waddell has not lacked for support from local fishermen over the years as it relied, in part, on their fundraising efforts and donations while the state refused to provide the center with critical funding.
We can see those years of financial uncertainty soon coming to an end, thanks largely to the efforts of Beaufort County’s legislative delegation. State Reps. Bill Herbkersman and Weston Newton and Sen. Tom Davis have convinced their colleagues in Columbia to give the center the money it needs to support recreational and commercial fishing in our state.
It started with last year’s budget, when the House of Representatives and Senate overrode Gov. Nikki Haley’s veto of $353,000 in recurring operating funds for the center. That was the first time in 12 years the Legislature agreed to provide such funding.
The center remained in a holding pattern, however, because Haley and the Senate would not support $903,000 the House set aside for much-needed repairs. The S.C. Department of Natural Resources told Bluffton Today last year the center needs to fix leaky skylights, structural cracks, a worn out garage door, ailing freezers, equipment corroded by saltwater and pump systems vulnerable to failure.
“I am prepared to reconsider a request for one-time funding for this facility next year, subject to the availability of funds,” wrote Haley in last year’s veto message.
This year, the House and Senate agreed to put $1.1 million in the budget for repairs. But Haley, pointing to the center’s recurring funds, vetoed the one-time injection of money.
The Legislature overwhelmingly rejected the veto last week, a key budget victory for the center, Bluffton and the rest of Beaufort County.
Davis rightly pointed out that Haley made an apples-to-oranges comparison in her veto, as the repair money is needed above and beyond the funding the center uses for daily operations. If the repairs are not made, the facility could be in danger of being condemned and the costs to fix it later would only increase.
Haley consistently touts her support of industry and the number of jobs South Carolina has added during her administration, but she apparently fails to see the work Waddell does to support jobs in the fishing and tourism industries. Fortunately, the Legislature seems to have heard Herbkersman, Newton and Davis loud and clear in their campaign to assist it.
Our representatives must continue spreading the word about the center’s success to ensure we aren’t back in the same place in a few years. The center is too important to allow it to fall into disrepair again and have to put on another full-court press to secure a reasonable level of funding.
“Without Waddell, without the restocking that it does, we would not be enjoying the reputation that we have as a sportsman’s paradise,” Davis said.