Federal budget cuts may hit Keys marine sanctuary

A budget extension to keep the federal government running through September passed this week in Washington, D.C., but some U.S. agencies in the Florida Keys could be pinched for spending money.

That could include the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, which covers 2,900 square miles of Keys waters.

A budget brief from the U.S. House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committee issued a fact sheet on the federal budget agreement. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which includes the National Marine Sanctuaries program, would end up with an overall budget of $5.7 billion for NOAA, “which is $90 million below the enacted level.”

Effects of the budget cut could not be determined, but Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said Tuesday that sanctuary staff indicated reductions could be “drastic.”

“Some of what we’re hearing is disturbing,” Neugent said.

Staff at the Keys sanctuary referred all questions about budgets to the U.S. Commerce Department public information office, which did not return calls and emails as of Tuesday.

The National Weather Service was identified as one of the “important priorities” in the NOAA budget and will retain its $1 billion budget. Weather satellites will be funded “to help maintain and improve weather forecasting to warn communities about potentially devastating natural disasters.”

The Washington Post reported the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service will get an $11 million increase, “partly to whittle down the endangered-species de-listing backlog... That’s the list of animals that are near recovery but are not yet off off the list because they haven’t entirely recovered from endangered levels. It’s a partisan initiative favoring conservatives that would allow development on protected lands.”

The National Park Service also received a budget increase of $81 million for infrastructure improvements. However, the national parks’ estimated budget for repairs and maintenance is listed as an $11 billion effort.

Kevin Wadlow: 305-440-3206