UW-Madison wants to give away a 16-foot canoe to a nonprofit group. The catch is the recipient has to pick it up — in New Orleans.

The canoe is up for grabs because it's outlived its usefulness in a UW-Madison wetland research program in the Big Easy.

"We seem to get a lot of interesting scenarios like this one," said Matthew Thies, of the university's Surplus With a Purpose, the program that redistributes and sells surplus equipment.

The canoe surfaced last week on the agency's website in a notice listing items available for donation to schools, state agencies or Wisconsin nonprofits. The university doesn't expect to see the canoe again, but the professor who left it there expects it to get a lot of use.

Henry Wang, a professor of geology, for the past four years has taught a summer course in New Orleans' Lower 9th Ward. The canoe was used by the UW students in a neighborhood wetland research project with a nonprofit group, the Center for Sustainable Engagement and Development.

"We did water depth sampling and sediment sampling for wetland being restored to cypress forest," said Wang. The nonprofit group continues the project, he said, so it was only practical to leave that group the canoe, which was purchased, used, for "a couple hundred dollars."

"We wanted to make the donation, but there were all these liability issues. We owned it and they used it, so our purchasing people figured out this would be a way to keep it useful, donating it to the neighborhood group," he said.

But there are rules for such maneuvers, including that it must first be offered to all state agencies and nonprofits before an out-of-state nonprofit can take it, Thies said.

This sort of issue pops up occasionally because university research takes place all over the world.

"We had a situation recently involving a car in South America," Thies said.

There are diminishing returns, however, when equipment is worn out or there is great expense in returning it to Wisconsin. 

"No matter what the value, we always try to make sure the taxpayers at least retain as much value as possible," he said, adding that there is no specific waiting period to be met before the donation is completed.

"We are just prohibited from directing anything owned by the UW to any one nonprofit or public citizen," he said. "There has to be a competitive process involved so that no one can get any preferential treatment."

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