- The Washington Times - Sunday, December 8, 2002

GLOUCESTER POINT, Va. (AP) Faced with steep state budget cuts, the Virginia Institute of Marine Science plans to raise money by selling part of its research fleet to the highest bidder.
The institute, a branch of the College of William & Mary and the state's chief science adviser, expects to generate $76,000 by auctioning several vessels. The money is needed to avert additional layoffs through 2004, according to financial plans.
Some staffers and scientists on campus question whether the institute can fulfill its mission with fewer vessels on the water. They also wonder how administrators expect to increase revenues by taking on more research projects for federal and private groups when there are fewer vessels to gather data from the Chesapeake Bay and Atlantic Ocean.
"In this field of work, how do you do more with less?" asked George Pongonis, the marine superintendent who oversees the institute's 36 active research ships and the 10 in storage. "I personally am not sure how you do that."
But he said there was no other place to look for money.
"Believe me," he said, "$76,000 is a lot of money to find under a rock when there's no other rocks to kick over."
This week Mr. Pongonis strolled around the institute's boat basin, at the foot of the Coleman Bridge, and pointed out several vessels that may be sold.
The Capt. John Smith is an example. Purchased in 1972, the Smith "has done it all, been all over the Bay," Mr. Pongonis said.
Then there's the Shearwater, a little speedboat that has been used to track and study sharks in the Atlantic Ocean.
"Yeah, this one could easily be converted into a recreational boat for some family," he said. "Need a lot of speed to track sharks, you know."
Mr. Pongonis turned away from the Shearwater and sighed.
"It's going to be hard to see any of these go," he said. "Each one means something special to this place, to the work we've done here for so many years."
The marine lab on the banks of the York River may market its vessels on the EBay Internet auction site or sell them through sealed bids.
Either way, it is likely to sell several large and small craft in the spring, when the weather is warmer and prospective buyers will pay more, Mr. Pongonis said. The school needs the money by June 30, the end of the fiscal year.
The auction idea emerged this fall when Gov. Mark R. Warner, a Democrat, announced $858 million in spending cuts during the next two years to help plug a $1.5 billion hole in the state budget.
The institute saw its own budget slashed by 11 percent this fiscal year and 11 percent next year.
All faculty and staff will be furloughed for seven days to reduce personnel costs.
The institute expects to reduce its work force by 12 positions and deliver pink slips to an additional 11 employees during the next two years.
The budget cuts will also limit work to grow disease-resistant oysters for planting in the Chesapeake Bay and to study a toxic microbe called pfiesteria, which caused a panic across the Mid-Atlantic several years ago.

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