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- 2012 - September - 20th -

Waterways Commission works to save JU contract for manatee plan

by Joe Wilhelm Jr., Staff Writer

The City’s Planning and Development Department was considering ending its contract with Jacksonville University, which provided assistance in revising the City’s Manatee Protection Plan, as a cost savings measure.

It was urged Wednesday by the Waterways Commission to reconsider.

The university is in the fourth year of a five-year contract to provide the City and Waterways Commission with technical support. The JU contract for fiscal 2012-13 is $107,000.

“The state gave us the same reply in 2008, that we had sufficient data and we no longer needed (to conduct aerial surveys of manatees),” said Calvin Burney, City planning and development director.

The contract includes services such as manatee mortality data, boat activity data, manatee protection zone boating compliance, marine facility inventory, City ecological and water quality study reports, tracking the implementation of the manatee protection plan and education and awareness programing.

Quinton White and Gerard Pinto of JU also regularly attend meetings and interact with the commission.

White explained that the aerial surveys were about 25 percent of the contract. Without a need for the surveys after talking to the state, Burney planned to provide the rest of the services through City staff.

“Do you think the aerial surveys of manatees could be extracted from the contract in order to achieve a cost savings without compromising the plan?” asked John Crescimbeni, City Council member and Waterways Commission member.

While he said it could be done, White didn’t recommend completely removing the surveys from the contract.

“We are not South Florida. Our manatees behave differently. They come and go at a different schedule. It seems like about the time we think we know what is going on the animals do something we don’t understand,” said White.

“I think we could scale back the flights if anybody had that conversation with me. But we never had that conversation,” he said.

Crescimbeni asked Burney to meet with White to develop a new contract amount and for Burney to take another look at his budget to find other areas for savings.

“If not, what I will do is go through that exercise and I’ll be more than happy to attempt to sell a floor amendment at Tuesday night’s City Council meeting to do something to preserve this because I think this is a very integral part of not only the Waterways Commission meetings, but also the manatee plan,” said Crescimbeni.

Burney said he was willing to meet with White, but wasn’t sure if a solution would result.

“I have no problem getting with Dr. White to see if something can be done. I just feel that if this contract is funded out of current department resources that we are going to have a problem,” said Burney.

Burney was asked to present his findings by Friday as the Council prepares for a final vote on the budget Tuesday.

Council member Lori Boyer, who serves as commission vice chair, said she understood that some of the services provided by the contract with JU could be handled by City employees, but she was concerned about losing the scientific expertise the JU staff provides.

“It does seem to me that there are a lot of activities on here that someone with a planning background or public relations background could do. On the other hand, in as much as we don’t have the scientific expertise within the City, it seems to me we would be seriously remiss in not having a continuing consulting arrangement to provide the technical expertise for projects as they arise,” said Boyer.

jwilhelm@baileypub.com

@photojoe71

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