South Jersey Non-Profit Marine Center Faces Uncertainty With Federal Grant Cuts Looming
By Robin Rieger
BRIGANTINE, N.J. (CBS) – Employees at the non-profit marine mammal-stranding center in Brigantine bring back a 60-pound harbor porpoise that washed up on Long Beach Island Wednesday.
As they try to determine what caused its death, four harbor seals picked up from other beaches recover inside the center’s bays.
A proposal in President Obama’s budget to eliminate a federal grant program, which provides over $100,000 a year to this center and others like it nationwide, has the center’s director Bob Schoelkopf concerned about its ability to cover 1,800 miles of coastline each year.
“Last year we did 198 animals. It costs a lot to operate. We have to pay for the fuel,” said Schoelkopf.
The center helped Ocean City remove the body of a whale that washed up on the beach recently.
“If we have a 60 foot whale next month, we may have to say we can’t touch it, it may have to lay there,” Schoelkopf said.
The grant is about 20 percent of the center’s annual $560,000 budget.
“The funding partially pays for staff, our vet, food and medicine,” he said.
The money also goes towards employee Shannon Russello’s salary, and she could be laid off.
“It would hurt me, and it would hurt a few other employees as well. But I’m more concerned about the wildlife,” said Russello.
So is local businessman Rip Reynolds, who would consider a fundraiser at his new bar to help.
“If they don’t provide that service, who’s gonna provide it?” asked Reynolds.
Schoelkopf says Congress won’t vote on the proposed cuts until the fall, but the center will work hard now to increase donations that make up the majority of its budget.
The center, created in 1978, is the only one of its kind in New Jersey.