Thanks to some help from the Western North Carolina Alliance, a former UNCA environmental program and lab may re-emerge. The Environmental Quality Institute — closed in 2009 after budget cuts ousted it from campus — will be reborn as an Alliance program.
The two groups recently announced that the Alliance will help the institute establish itself as a freestanding nonprofit. Last fall, after the UNC budget approved by the N.C. General Assembly mandated $1.28 million in cuts for UNCA, the institute closed. Despite arguments that it was sustained largely by grant funding, EQI was one of a handful of campus programs cut.
Ann Marie Traylor, formerly the institute's head chemist, has since taken on the role of director and approached the Alliance last fall to gauge their interest in resurrecting the program. In January of this year, the board voted to act as fiscal manager for EQI, in effect making it a program operating under the umbrella of the Alliance. The latter group's experience and reach into the community, says WNCA Executive Director Julie Mayfield, will help bring in the necessary funding to keep the institute going.
It's estimated that the institute will need $150,000 per year in operating funds.
"It was an easy decision for our board," Mayfield says. "They were very excited about it, given the role that EQI and [the Volunteer Water Information Network] has played in the community for such a long time."
VWIN was one of the institute's main initiatives, in conjunction with several local nonprofits. Volunteers collect samples from the region's streams that are then analyzed by staff chemists. That information, Traylor says, was used by several other environmental organizations, especially as a tool for securing funding for water-quality improvement projects.
"We've had so much community support," Traylor says. "That's the reason I think this is going to work out."
At first, the new version of the institute will focus primarily on VWIN, says Traylor. "That is going to be the foundation," she adds. "We've dropped a lot of the other projects."
The agreement means that EQI will be an Alliance program, with the latter helping apply for and manage the funds it will take to run the program for one year. After that, both Traylor and Mayfield say, the institute will hopefully spin off as its own nonprofit group. There are plans to bring on student staffers as well, a move that mirrors the institute's previous incarnation at UNCA. "We've always had several students working per semester," Traylor says. "And most of those students walked away with a publication in a peer-reviewed journal. I'd really like to keep that kind of thing going."
Currently, Traylor is scouting locations for the institute's lab and recovering lab equipment purchased by the institute but technically the property of the university. "The people at UNCA have actually been very helpful in trying to help this current version of EQI work out," she says.
Anyone wishing to contribute to the EQI can contact the Western North Carolina Alliance at www.wnca.org or 258-8737.