Friday, July 08, 2005
UMD's (University of Minnesota Duluth) research vessel Blue Heron was cruising across calm water near the Apostle Islands Wednesday and into an uncertain future. Gov. Tim Pawlenty recently vetoed funding for a much-needed refit of 20-year old former fishing boat.
Research Vessel Blue Heron``We haven't investigated in detail the consequences of this but we're facing the very real possibility that we will have to lay up the ship until we can find the money to do this,'' said Steve Colman, director of the Large Lakes Observatory, which operates the vessel. Laying up the Blue Heron could result in the loss of research grants for various projects, Colman said. Colman estimates that the vessel may have brought as much as $6 million in direct and indirect funding to Minnesota over the past several years. ``Regardless of the politics involved, this is just penny-wise and pound-foolish,'' Colman said of the veto of $295,000 to upgrade and overhaul the Blue Heron. ``She needs to have a lot of things done,'' Blue Heron Capt. Mike King said. ``We need the engine tweaked, we need new paint, we need a new foghorn, a forward-looking sonar. A lot of things both big and small.'' The Blue Heron refit was one of 75 projects the Legislative Commission on Minnesota Resources recommended for funding and lawmakers approved Thursday. Pawlenty vetoed 12 of the projects. ``The governor wants to make sure that the money spent from the environment natural resources fund is used in a manner consistent with the constitutional language,'' Pawlenty spokesman Brian McClung said. ``The language is much tighter than the spending process has been over the past several years. Research, while important, is not among the uses listed in the constitution.'' The 12 items that were vetoed totaled $4.1 million of the $39.3 million in the legislative commission's projects. Four of the vetoed projects were in the Northland. In addition to the Blue Heron funding, Pawlenty axed: $466,000 to the Virginia Public Utility to lease land and plant about 1,000 acres of hybrid poplar that would be harvested and burned to produce power. $250,000 to the Natural Resources Research Institute at UMD to study how global warming would affect Minnesota's lakes and rivers. $240,000 to UMD to study the economic and social benefits of producing renewable energy. The governor's veto kills the global warming project, NRRI director Mike Lalich said. ``It's the kind of stuff that needs to be done,'' he said. ``We just have to keep plugging away and trying to find other ways of getting things done in the longer term.'' The 86-foot Blue Heron was built in 1985 and worked as a fishing boat for several years. UMD obtained the boat in 1997. The vessel is two years overdue for a major Coast Guard inspection, Colman said. The University-National Oceanographic Laboratory System, however, does inspect the Blue Heron biannually. The group inspected the Blue Heron earlier this year and recertified it to continue operating as a research vessel. The Blue Heron spends about 70 days a year on Lake Superior, conducting research projects paid for by the National Science Foundation and federal and state agencies. ``If we have to lay up the vessel it will be a big blow to long-term planning of environmental research on the Great Lakes,'' Colman said.