The proposal would move $27 million out of the fund, representing 84 percent of the Artificial Reef Program, to help plug a $1.6 billion shortfall in next year's budget. Only $5 million would remain in the dedicated fund.
"This is the governor's decision and the governor's budget, and since (LDWF Secretary Robert) Barham answers to the governor, I wouldn't expect him to (oppose) that (transfer of money)," said Harry Blanchet, LDWF biologist director of the Marine Fisheries Section. "When the state is in a financial crisis, (state budget officials) are going to look anywhere they can to fill the nooks and crannies. I think he feels this is something we're going to have to live with."
Barham is quoted in an earlier news report as saying the public would not "hear any kick from me on this."
If approved, this would be the second year in a row that money from the program disappears into the state General Fund, of which the agency receives precious little funding. Last year, more than $18 million was taken.
Oil companies fund the Artificial Reef Program by splitting the savings from adding decommissioned rigs to artificial reefs as opposed to hauling the structures to shore and paying to have them salvaged.
"If an oil company would save $1 million, we would get $500,000 and the oil company would get $500,000," Blanchet explained.
There have been 263 decommissioned rigs dropped to create artificial reefs since the program began in 1986, LDWF records show.
Rigs entered into the program are hauled to one of nine LDWF-designated artificial reef zones measuring 3,000 feet by 3,000 feet, and then dropped to the bottom. All expenses related to transport and sinking of the rigs are paid by the oil companies.
"The oil company owns that rig until it is placed in the artificial reef area and (LDWF) receives the money," Blanchet said.
Money from the Artificial Reef Fund is used to pay for permitting and logistics, placing and maintaining any necessary buoys, supplementing artificial reefs with material other than rigs (for instance, armored personnel carriers) and the building of inshore artificial reefs.
LDWF records show 28 inshore reefs have been built with funding from the program.
Blanchet said LDWF's Barham believes the fund will grow quickly even if Jindal's proposed raid is approved by legislators.
"He doesn't envision any problem making up the funds in the future," Blanchet said. "(Barham) feels comfortable that the Artificial Reef Program has money, and we're seeing a lot of additional rigs coming into the program, so we're seeing a cash surplus and there's time to rebuild that fund."
Blanchet said he expects oil companies to begin entering more structures into the program as the summer heats up.
"We're coming into the summer season, which is the work season for decommissioning rigs," he said. "Seat of the pants: I would think we'll get a fair amount of money coming into the program to build that fund back up."
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