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Monterey Bay to Get Visitor Center

Funding: Bill signed by Bush provides money for a facility to serve the marine sanctuary.

January 01, 2002|From Associated Press

MONTEREY, Calif. — With thick kelp forests and exotic wildlife, Monterey Bay has been described more than once as an underwater Yosemite. Now, the ocean expanse will get one of the true trappings of a national park, a visitor center.

Fulfilling a decade-long dream of former Congressman Leon Panetta and other bay supporters, the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary won preliminary funding from Congress in December.

The funding came Nov. 28, when President Bush signed the Commerce Department budget bill, which includes $1.25 million for planning and other work on the project.

Next month, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration plans to award a contract for a feasibility study. Construction could start in 2003.

"This is great," said Panetta, now chairman of the Pew Oceans Commission, a nonprofit group studying ocean issues nationwide.

"The problem with the ocean is that we tend to take it for granted. In Monterey Bay, you've got a canyon that is twice as deep as the Grand Canyon, for example. So few people really know about the sea life there. A center like this will give us a chance to see what lies beneath."

As a congressman representing Monterey and Santa Cruz, Panetta blocked efforts by the Reagan administration to allow oil drilling off Big Sur and San Mateo County. He wrote the bill that established the sanctuary along 276 miles of coastline from the Marin Headlands to San Simeon, banning oil drilling forever in the area. The bill was signed into law in 1992.

During that era, Panetta repeatedly said he hoped the public would have a place similar to a national park visitor center to learn about the marine environment, Central Coast history and the extensive underwater research in Monterey Bay.

A location has not yet been chosen, said William Douros, superintendent of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary, headquartered in Monterey.

But Douros said the three leading sites so far are Santa Cruz, Monterey and Aptos.

"We'll want to describe what a marine sanctuary is, why it is there, what is out there and what people can do to protect it," Douros said.

Plans call for exhibits on wildlife and history, along with information on where people can fish, boat and enjoy other activities.

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