ANNAPOLIS The president of the University of Maryland Eastern Shore urged the Eastern Shore delegation today to support funding for a proposed coastal teaching and research laboratory on Assateague Island.
Dolores R. Spikes, UMES president, asked the delegation to add about $3 million to the Department of Natural Resources budget to help fund the establishment of a coastal ecology teaching and research center, which would cost about $5 million to $6 million.
Spikes said the center would “serve as a tremendous boost to Assateague Island itself and the Eastern Shore,” and would encourage an interest in the sciences and the environment in underrepresented groups, especially African Americans and first-generation college students. UMES, which would manage the facility, is designated one of the nation’s Historically Black Institutions, with about a 70 percent African-American enrollment.
The project “will help our young people become interested in science and the environment by having somewhere they can…go to actually see the environment at work,” she said.
The delegation didn’t need much encouragement from Spikes.
Delegate Norman H. Conway, D-Wicomico, said he hoped the project would “turn on some kids” to ecological and science issues, and called the project a viable one.
“It needs to be done,” he said. “Delaware gives a tremendous focus to educational institutions to signify the importance of coastal bays and the Atlantic. We have not done that to the degree that is necessary.”
Delegate Mary Roe Walkup, R-Kent, shared his view.
“I think this project is way overdue,” she said.
According to Carl Zimmerman, resource management specialist with the National Park Service at Assateague Island National Seashore, the project has been discussed for about a decade. He said the main purpose of the center would be education and to increase coastal bay research.
The center would offer field courses in coastal issues and environmental policy, advanced classes and special summer courses to students of all ages, field laboratory support for University of Maryland students and faculty members, and on-site training for teachers.
The center would also offer special seminars and outreach programs, courses and adult education programs on coastal bay ecology, regional development, resource management and environmental policy, according to the UMES presentation.
The facility would house laboratories, greenhouses, a classroom, resource library, staff offices, an auditorium and exhibit spaces.
The center’s proposed site is adjacent to the National Park Service’s Assateague Island headquarters and visitor’s center, Zimmerman said.
The center would be the first of its kind to examine coastal bay areas so extensively, according to Carolyn Brooks, dean of the School of Agricultural and Natural Sciences at UMES. In the past, the focus has primarily been on the Chesapeake Bay, she said.
Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources, the National Park Service, Salisbury State University, the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science and other University System of Maryland institutions also support the establishment of the center, although UMES would manage it once it is up and running.
Sen. Paul S. Sarbanes, D-Md., is trying to get some federal funding for the project, said his spokesman Jesse Jacobs. The Department of Natural Resources said it is also seeking sources of funding.
Delegate Adelaide C. Eckardt, R-Dorchester, said that while the delegation seems supportive of the project, it could run into trouble elsewhere in the legislature. She said she is concerned because the project would use supplemental funds, which are not included in the budget. The governor’s proposed budget exceeds last year’s budget by 7.3 percent.
Eckardt also said the project may not move forward if it receives no federal funding.
“But this project has been kicking around for a long time. I have the sense that (UMES) is pretty sure the funds will come through,” she said.
Construction could begin as early as December 2000 and would be completed in one year.