Officials at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration said they are committed to building a fisheries research center at Lena Point, but are evaluating their options after construction bids came in higher than expected.
"We're re-evaluating what is the best course of action to go forward," said NOAA fisheries program manager John Gorman of Juneau. "Headquarters is fully committed to the project and it's going to be built. It's just a question of how and when."
Meanwhile, the Assembly on Monday approved a $1.9 million bid from Secon to build a road at Lena Point to the new fisheries center. City Manager Dave Palmer said the city has been told by NOAA that there is no reason not to proceed with the road. City road project manager Bob Millard said road construction probably will start by July 15.
NOAA officials are waiting for Cornerstone Construction of Anchorage, the apparent low bidder, to verify and re-calculate its bid. Until then, the agency isn't in a position to decide how to proceed, Gorman said.
"There are four or five different scenarios we're looking at," he said. "We won't be able to focus on a specific one until we hear back from Cornerstone."
One option is to break the construction into phases, but Gorman said the agency isn't ready to provide additional details.
Cornerstone bid $42.5 million for the construction project, according to NOAA. Haskell Corp. of Washington bid $47.1 million, and McGraw Custom Construction of Sitka bid $48.5 million. NOAA's construction estimate was $36 million.
The 69,000-square-foot fisheries research center will include offices and laboratory space for about 100 National Marine Fisheries Service employees. Plans called for construction to start this summer and end in 2004. When the center is complete, many of the people who work at the NMFS Auke Bay laboratory would move there.
Palmer and Mayor Sally Smith have been on the phone with NOAA officials and the city's Washington, D.C., lobbyist to advocate for the project. NOAA has congressional authorization to build the project in phases, Palmer said. The city might want to ask for more federal funding for the project in fiscal year 2004, Smith said.
Assembly member Marc Wheeler, with approval from the rest of the Assembly, asked on Monday that the city write letters to Alaska Sen. Ted Stevens and NOAA urging that the project proceed.