January 30, 2014 | Vol. 40, No. 5

Assembly approves federal budget priorities

The Petersburg Borough Assembly bumped sea mammal issues up on the list of federal budget priorities during its last meeting.

The proposed list includes projects and funding mechanisms the assembly wants its lobbyist to fight for in Congress.

“Very rarely do any of those things mean somebody writes us a check for something,” Steve Giesbrecht, borough manager, said. “The priority list tends to be one of those ongoing things.”

The sea mammal issue, including sea otters and sea lions, has been towards the bottom of the list—below issues such as ocean acidification, Stikine mining in Canada and ‘No on GMO’ policies.

With recent issues involving aggressive sea lions bothering people on the docks, borough officials hope to have more options available to deter the animals from approaching people. Short of scaring the sea lions with noisemakers, there’s not much staff can do to ward the animals off. Sea lions are protected under the Endangered Species Act and the Marine Mammal Protection Act, which prohibits hunting or harming of marine mammals.

Borough officials would also like to see effort made at the congressional level to address local shellfish and dive fisheries being adversely affected by increases in sea otter populations—animals also protected under federal legislation.

The top priority is the continuation of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program—federal funds paid to communities where much of the land is federally owned.

Next is the Reauthorization of Secure Rural Schools—a subsidy paid to fund schools in communities where the logging industry has waned. Petersburg has received less and less funding during the past several years. During 2010, the borough received around $1.7 million.

Giesbrecht said he expects the borough to receive less than $1 million this year.

The third budget priority is the Essential Air Services (EAS)—a subsidy the feds pay to American airlines to maintain regular flights in and out of rural communities.

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