The Legislature restored the $941,000 annual appropriation for the Arizona Geological Survey when it passed a $9.8 billion state budget last week, ending more than a year of uncertainty about the survey’s future.
Survey Director Phil Pearthree said the budget appropriation will allow the survey to continue its core mission of mapping the state’s geological resources and hazards, and will give it “leverage” to pursue grants in other areas.
Pearthree took over as director and Arizona State geologist from Lee Allison, who died in an accident at his home in August, shortly after the survey was moved to the University of Arizona without an annual budget appropriation.
Pearthree said the UA provided funding for a year “but the prospects for that continuing were nil.”
Michael Conway, extension geologist for the survey, called the restoration “bittersweet.”
“We lost our library, lost Lee, lost half our staff. Now we’re in a rebuilding phase, but it’s a bittersweet victory.”
The uncertainty began last year when Gov. Doug Ducey recommended consolidating the survey’s work with the University of Arizona.
In May 2016, the Legislature transferred the survey’s responsibilities to the UA, but provided no funding for it.
The survey had to vacate its headquarters in a state office building on West Congress Street by the June 30 end of the fiscal year. It moved to space in the former Office of Arid Lands Studies, 1955 E. Sixth St., that was 25 percent of its previous square footage.
It closed its “Arizona Experience” store, gave up most of its library holdings and placed its mineral-core collection in storage.
The survey employs 15 and once employed twice that number, Pearthree said.
It is looking to hire a geo-informatics specialist and an expert in economic geology who would collaborate with other UA scientists at the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources, the Department of Geosciences, and the Department of Mining and Engineering, Pearthree said.
“I don’t know that we’ll ever get back to the maximum we had under Lee Allison, but we’re certainly on a restocking, redeveloping trend,” Pearthree said.
“I’m happy. I’m relieved, especially for our staff. It’s been a really tough year and a half.”
Pearthree said the successful campaign to restore funding was led by Sen. Gail Griffin, R-Sierra Vista, and supported by advocates in mining, real estate and geosciences.
Griffin said the agency was an easy sell to her colleagues. “The Geological Survey people are the cream of the crop,” she said. “I look forward to the expansion of that office.”
“I think most of us know that (consolidation) was a mistake when it happened.”
Griffin said real estate agents like herself rely on access to information about fissures gathered by the survey, “in addition to all the other things they do for the state, and nationally.”