New NOAA HQ, Newport, OR
In yet another effort to stop NOAA from moving their Pacific Headquarters from Seattle to Newport, Washington Congressman Jim McDermott today proposed a budget amendment to stop funding the move. The withholding of NOAA funding is part of an overall cutting of the federal budget by conservatives in the House. Although a Democrat, Congressman McDermott appeared to be willing to try one more time to keep NOAA in Seattle, despite the fact that NOAA has a binding relocation contract with Newport and that the new headquarters are nearly complete.
In response, Oregon Coast Congressman Kurt Schrader rose to floor of the House to object to McDermott’s proposed amendment with the following statement which says, basically, that the selection of Newport was based on the law and the best use of U.S. taxpayer funds. Schrader maintains that if the move is halted, it would force NOAA to pay for the headquarters anyway, and they would have no base to operate out of, either in Newport or Seattle.
Video of Congressman Kurt Schrader’s comments on the floor of the House: Click here
When this story broke earlier in the week, Port of Newport Manager Don Mann said they have an iron clad contract with NOAA that they will re-locate to Newport. If they don’t, Mann said the contract provisions require they pay the costs of the project, regardless. Mann said he’s optimistic that what we’re witnessing is more politics than anything else. He said he fully expects to give NOAA the keys to their new Pacific Marine Headquarters on May 1st.
Schrader’s comments (written) in full:
I rise in opposition to the amendment offered by my friend from Washington.
Let me be clear up-front; if this amendment were to be enacted, NOAA would face termination liabilities in excess of $50 million and their ability to conduct mission critical activities in the Pacific would be in jeopardy.
NOAA would have neither they authority or resources to contract for alternate arrangements putting in jeopardy the support of this fleet of ships which gather data to produce navigational charts of U.S. waters, survey fishery stocks, and maintain instruments which support tsunami warnings, weather forecasts, and climate research.
Let me say again, after NOAA’s current lease is up in June. If this amendment were to pass, NOAA would have NO authority, legal or otherwise, to mobilize its Pacific fleet. It would be dead in the water.
There has been a lot of talk about process, but frankly this process has been comprehensive, transparent, and legitimate. After a rigorous competitive lease acquisition process that followed GAO guidelines, in August 2009 NOAA awarded a 20-year lease to Newport for the relocation of its Pacific fleet.
The facts are clear; NOAA made this decision based on the merits, not politics. Newport was the superior choice for the taxpayers and the agency’s mission in the Pacific.
Newport was the number one choice in COST and number one choice in technical merit.
In fact, the annual lease of the Newport facilities will cost the federal government 50% LESS than the 3 competing sites located in Washington state.
For my colleagues that are unfamiliar with the process, let me provide you with some background on the issue.
In 2006, the pier at NOAA’s Lake Union Seattle facility was destroyed by fire and was never reconstructed by the landlord.
Since then, NOAA ships have been berthed at various locations in the Greater Puget Sound and NOAA has not had the benefit of collocated ship berthing and shore side support.
Collocation of vessels produces logistical efficiencies during maintenance and training periods, eliminates the need to lease temporary berthing at other facilities and eliminates loss of production from travel between different facilities.
With the problems associated with their current location and the lease expiring at Lake Union in mid-2011, NOAA began a competitive bidding process for the relocation of their Pacific fleet.
Four proposals were submitted — 3 in Washington and 1 in Newport, Oregon.
The Newport proposal was the highest technically-rated and lowest priced of all proposals, including the offer from the current location at Lake Union.
Newport has nearly completed the newly constructed state of the art LEED rated facilities which include: a two-story administration building, warehouse, workshop, boat shed, pier with berths for six ships, and a small boat dock.
It’s important to note that all the work to date has been done with local and state dollars with no cost to the federal government.
Newport is ahead of schedule and will be ready to hand over the keys to NOAA on May 1st when NOAA’s 20-year lease is set to commence.
NOAA will then be obligated to commence the 20-year lease in May of this year.
The new facility in Newport brings cost offsets and advantages to the NOAA Pacific fleet:
A closer proximity to the open ocean reduces transit costs and traffic interference with other vessels, increasing safety and efficiency. Typically a transit by NOAA ships from the current Lake Union site to open ocean is eight hours and could be longer based on traffic and availability of the Lake Union lock. Transit from Newport to open ocean is 20 to 30 minutes.
The new facility in Newport will be located next door to the Oregon State University Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC), enabling additional partnerships between federal government and academia.
The relocation will strengthen a 27 year OSU/NOAA Cooperative Institute for Marine Resources Studies (CIMRS) program, which offers opportunities for joint research and outreach to a growing community of University and NOAA scientists dedicated to marine science, graduate education and learning partnerships with regional industries and communities that are dependent on marine resources.
Relocation to the newly constructed facilities in Newport, Oregon, represents the most cost effective way to maintain and operate the valuable resource of NOAA’s entire Pacific Fleet and the best value to the Government.
And importantly, the relocation of NOAA’s pacific fleet represents a huge boost to a small rural Oregon coastal community that will bring much needed jobs and translate into significant economic benefits
Over the past 4 days we’ve engaged in a rigorous debate regarding the fiscal health of our country.
For my colleagues that are serious about saving the taxpayers money and reducing our deficit, you should join me in opposing the McDermott amendment.