Will budget cuts hit the marine industry hard?

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The economic enthusiasm for the Trump administration is quickly turning to concern about whose favorite programs will see serious cuts or disappear entirely. For the marine industry, it’s likely we’ll face hard decisions about where to put our legislative muscle and where to abandon a position that can’t succeed.

For example, credible early reports from the Associated Press and the Washington Post indicate the draft plan of the Office of Management and Budget is calling for major cuts to budgets of the Coast Guard, Transportation Security Administration, Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration.

OK, I’ll agree to forego the thrill of a hands-on TSA body rub at the airport. But the other proposed cuts, like a 14 percent cut for the Coast Guard, would hit home. Last year the Coast Guard conducted 16,343 search-and-rescue missions; assisted 24,089 people; saved 5,174 lives; patrolled 3.4 million square miles of the U.S. Economic Exclusionary Zone to stop illegal fishing by foreign vessels; boarded more than 4,600 U.S. vessels to enforce fishing law; and responded to 11,835 pollution incidents reports and responded to 35 oil and 17 hazardous substances incidents, to name just a few. Cuts will hurt boating and jeopardize security.

Looking at FEMA, while its funding is for recovery from disasters anywhere in the nation, our thoughts mostly turn to our coastlines where help is often needed to recover from hurricanes, floods and the like. A current example is the devastation experienced by the New Jersey’s marine industry from Hurricane Sandy (see Dealer Outlook on March 7) and the need to continue funding the emergency dredging work in 131 shoaled-up channels that are eligible for FEMA reimbursement. So at any time, FEMA could be a life ring for boating somewhere.

NOAA has a positive impact on boating in many ways, too. One big mission important to marine businesses and boaters alike along the East and Gulf coasts is NOAA’s hurricane-hunter flight operations. These planes fly into and around storms to determine track and intensity. And, through new technology, they have steadily improved the all-important hurricane forecast warning cone.

Think about this: As a practical matter, the successful narrowing of any major storm track cone by NOAA will save literally millions of dollars. That’s because local, state and federal emergency managers estimate it costs about $1 million per coastline mile to evacuate residents from an oncoming storm.

Another NOAA cut would eliminate a valuable $73 million program called Sea Grant, a national network of 33 university-based efforts that conduct research on fisheries, aquaculture, coastal economic development, harbor management and beach safety. And up in the Great Lakes all coastal buoys are funded through various NOAA programs. If cut, direct measurements near the coastline of wind and surf conditions that National Weather Service depends on for issuing nearshore advisories would be lost.

Even more alarms are going off in the Great Lakes about a possible 97 percent cut (from $300 million to $10 million) to a key Environmental Protection Agency program called the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative. It funds Great Lakes pollution cleanup, invasive species management, the ever-growing algae bloom problems and other key watershed projects in the eight states bordering the lakes.

It’s all just beginning. There’s little doubt at this point that other cuts that could negatively impact boating and fishing are likely looming. And it seems certain that boating will have to judge where and how it moves to restore needed funding.

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