Politics & Government

Buchanan throws in support for estuary funding, but Sarasota Bay director ‘waiting’ for official budget

In this May 2016 file photo, a great blue heron sits on a tree on Leffis Key off of Sarasota Bay.
In this May 2016 file photo, a great blue heron sits on a tree on Leffis Key off of Sarasota Bay. Bradenton Herald

In his ongoing support for conservation issues, U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, announced Wednesday he joined a bipartisan group in urging the U.S. House Appropriations Committee to request full funding for the National Estuary Program, or NEP.

Across the country, 28 estuaries have been designated by Congress of “national significance.” Four of them are in Florida, including one in our own backyard: Sarasota Bay.

The members of Congress sent the letter on March 30 to House Appropriations Chairman Ken Calvert and Ranking Member Betty McCollum, asking to continue the bill signed into law by President Barack Obama authorizing $132.5 million over five years to NEPs through 2021. The letter also asked for an additional $5 million for competitive grants for qualifying programs.

The plea is in response to President Donald Trump’s preliminary budget proposals for the 2018 fiscal year that could slash funding for Environmental Protection Agency, but doesn’t explicitly mention NEPs.

Mark Alderson, executive director of Sarasota Bay Estuary Program, or SBEP, said Wednesday he’s grateful for Buchanan’s involvement.

“He’s been a continuing supporter for the environment,” he said.

SBEP receives $600,000 annually from the NEP to continuously improve the watershed and habitat around Sarasota Bay. Alderson added that their hands-on education has reached about 60,000 children.

“It’s hard to imagine, but most of our underprivileged kids don’t get a chance to get out on the bay and learn about the critters,” he said.

Estuaries are the intermediary between rivers and the ocean, bringing together more than 1,400 species of plants and animals.

“Sarasota Bay plays a key role in the Suncoast’s thriving economy and serves as habitat for countless plants and wildlife,” Buchanan said in a press release. “I will continue to fight for our estuary so residents and visitors can enjoy the bay for decades to come.”

But Alderson isn’t too concerned about the implications of the proposed budget because he said it isn’t not official, adding that he’s “waiting to hear what the president says.”

“It’s a little early to talk about that,” he said.

Hannah Morse: 941-745-7055, @mannahhorse