The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has canceled a bid solicitation for an over-budget fisheries research center planned for Lena Point as it continues to evaluate its options.
NOAA decided on Tuesday to cancel the bids so contractors wouldn't be left "dangling" as federal officials regrouped, said Sheela McLean, a public affairs officer for the National Marine Fisheries Service.
"We're examining rescoping the Lena Point project to fit within the $51 million budget. That's one option," she said. "The other is we're going to look at renovating the existing Auke Bay lab. We'll look at those things as well as other options. ... We're looking at trying to fit within the money we have right now."
Construction on a new, 69,000-square-foot fisheries research facility was to have started this summer at Lena Point. About 100 employees, many from the NMFS lab in Auke Bay, were to have moved to the Lena Point center in 2004. A University of Alaska Fairbanks fisheries lab also is planned for Lena Point.
The government had estimated the fisheries center would cost $36 million to build, but the bids came in higher than projections. The low bid, from Cornerstone of Anchorage, was $42 million. Haskell Corp. of Bellingham, Wash., and McGraw Custom Construction of Sitka also submitted bids.
With a decision on the NOAA project hanging, the contractors saw bonding capacity reduced for other projects, Cornerstone President John Eng said.
"It's good news and bad news. The good news is we have plenty of bonding capacity," he said "The bad news is we're not getting a project we were the low bidder on."
At its peak, Eng estimated the construction project would have put 80 to 100 people to work. Cornerstone is interested in bidding on a future fisheries center project here, he added.
NOAA officials said earlier this summer the Lena Point project would be built; it was just a matter of when and how. The city started construction on a new road to the proposed center last week and a residential subdivision is planned nearby.
McLean said NOAA is staying in touch with the city on developments. If major changes to the project are needed, the agency likely will be required to go through a National Environmental Policy Act review, she said.
Work on the fisheries center started in 1992 and the project's budget was cut from $78 million to $50 million as plans evolved.
Interim City Manager John MacKinnon said the city still is trying to gather information about Tuesday's decision and doesn't plan to halt road construction.
"There hasn't been a decision made to stop the project and I'm not sure there will be a decision," he said. "Simply put, I don't think we're in a position to react and shut things down. We're proceeding on good faith that that is where the facility will be and upholding our end of the bargain."
The city and NOAA contributed funding to build the new road at Lena Point. The city also purchased land at Lena Point for the center that NOAA acquired in a land swap.
During initial scoping for a project site, NOAA studied upgrades to the Auke Bay lab and the option received the lowest possible ranking, MacKinnon said.
"From my perspective, I don't think that's an option," he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.