Marine Advisory Program Returns to Unalaska

Monday, July 28 2014

For almost a year, Unalaska’s been missing out on an important educational resource: a marine advisory program agent. Tight budgets meant the University of Alaska Fairbanks couldn’t afford to fill the MAP position -- until now. KUCB's Annie Ropeik has more.

Unalaska’s Sea Grant office has been empty since the departure of longtime former MAP agent Reid Brewer. He spent almost a decade in town, working with city schools and visiting researchers on coastal monitoring projects. Then, last August, he left to take a university teaching job in Sitka.

"That makes it difficult to come up with permission to rehire that position when you’re in kind of a budget-cutting mode," says Paula Cullenberg, director of UAF’s Sea Grant program.

Cullenberg oversees MAP offices across the state, and she was dismayed to see Unalaska lose its MAP agent. Now, she says she’s found money to hire a new person for an abridged version of the old job.

"What we decided to do is merge the marine advisory position with a halftime university coordinator position that was in Unalaska," she says. "As of last summer, both of those became vacant, and we decided to pull them into one position."

So the MAP agent will also be in charge of university registration and online classes here in Unalaska.

"They will only be able to do so much in either of those jobs, and so that’s definitely a reduction of service to the region, there’s no question about that," Cullenberg says. "But I was worried that if we didn’t refill those positions at all, soon, that it would be a larger hill to climb to get even ever get them open again."

But neither position will be as long-term as before -- Cullenberg says they can only afford to pay someone nine months a year for the next three years to do both jobs. And that person won’t be eligible for tenure, like the MAP agent used to be.

"Maybe in three years, things will be a little bit more settled in terms of state budgets and university budget, and we can get back to that level of permanence," she says. "But it’s sort of a temporary fix right now."

Cullenberg says they’ll split the new hire’s salary -- at least $75,000 a year -- between the Sea Grant and Interior-Aleutians Campus budgets.

She’d asked the city of Unalaska to chip in on the cost earlier this year, but they declined. Though the school board and city officials had lobbied the state for MAP funding during the legislative session, they stopped short of wanting to pay out of pocket -- city manager Chris Hladick says they didn’t want to set the precedent.

But the city will foot the bill for the new employee’s office space, utilities and internet, as they’ve done in the past.

Still, with a job that’s so remote, Cullenberg says it falls to the city and its residents to show the university that they need a permanent MAP agent in their coastal community.

"It’s the gateway to the Arctic; you’ve got big increased marine transportation up in that area; you have climate change going on; it’s the largest seafood port in the nation," she says. "It just seems very obvious to us in the program that we need to have representation out in Unalaska, so it's very high-value for us to replace that position."

And they want to do that before the start of the school year. Cullenberg says her office will start reviewing applications for the combined MAP-university coordinator position this week.

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