Empire editorial: NOAA project must move forward

Posted: Sunday, August 11, 2002

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's unexpected decision to cancel the bid process for the Lena Point project has created a good deal of chaos. Despite conflicting information reported in the newspaper this week, construction continues on the access road.

Even though the decision presents a serious setback, the project can and should move forward. The NOAA project has weathered through substantial public input, an environmental assessment and a comprehensive review process. It also has been downsized through a number of revisions prior to being let out for bid.

Considering the community's commitment and investment, to stop the project now would amount to a breach of good faith by the National Marine Fisheries Service and create a chain reaction with sweeping negative repercussions.

The opportunities and benefits to be gained from this $80 million landmark project extend far beyond the build-out phase. The NOAA's portion of the project is budgeted at $51 million.

An exciting and important component of the Lena Point research project is the University of Alaska Fairbanks School of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences facility (SFOS) representing an additional $22 million investment. The planned UAF facility includes a 39,000-square-fot lab and administration building at Lena Point.

NOAA and SFOS share common goals and have a longstanding relationship of cooperative research, which will be greatly enhanced by locating both facilities on the same site at Lena Point.

The university's participation includes the joint use of assets such as seawater and wastewater treatment systems as well as a sharing of design and site preparation costs. In this way the costs and efficiencies of the conjoined institutional capital projects stretch taxpayer dollars as far as possible.

The NOAA/SFOS project represents a golden opportunity for both Juneau and the state. Juneau will benefit from construction jobs, and high-paying jobs in the knowledge sector - in science and research. The university system will gain status with a world-class curriculum in ocean sciences.

With $9 million to be raised through a general obligation bond this fall tied directly to the progress of the Lena Point NOAA facility, it is too late for the university to reverse course. If the National Marine Fisheries Service doesn't make good on its commitment, the University of Alaska stands to lose a critically important $22 million program.

In addition to the $5 million invested in the NOAA project by the CBJ, city staff and elected officials have devoted a vast amount of time and energy to see this project through to fruition. They should be commended for their tenacity and vision.

Sen. Ted Stevens has fought hard for decades to get this highly coveted project for Juneau.

He is frustrated by the recent developments, which bear the markings of political infighting within the federal agency. Sen. Stevens, along with Rep. Don Young, Sen. Frank Murkowski, and a number of Juneau officials and project supporters are working to find ways to get the project back on track. Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer and Gov. Knowles also have joined in vigorous support of the effort.

There are apparently some folks in NOAA who would love to see the investment redirected to a new facility in Washington state instead of Juneau, Alaska. Federal, state and private interests in Washington have for years controlled the fishery in Alaska waters. The NOAA expansion at Lena Point will permanently shift a measure of that control to Alaska, where it belongs. Alaska's commercial fishery is in trouble. This Alaska-based ocean research center will factor greatly in improving the fishery of our waters for all.

This project, like every other noteworthy development in Juneau, has suffered its share of resistance; however, the project enjoys overwhelming community support and solid support from the highest level of NMFS and our state leaders.

Interim City Manager John MacKinnon will meet with James W. Balsiger, Alaska administrator for NMFS, early next week.

MacKinnon intends to involve the city in NOAA's site discussions and is actively exploring options for rescoping the Lena project. If necessary, the city may want to consider some sort of bridge funding to span all or a portion of the gap between the $51 million budgeted cost of the project and the $63 million low bid. An investment by the city now would pay dividends many times over in just the value of the jobs alone.

It's not too late to salvage this project! NOAA and NMFS officials need to hear from you. Lend your support for this important project by contacting the following officials by e-mail or snail mail:

Scott B. Gudes, Deputy Under Secretary, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 14th & Constitution Avenue, Washington, D.C. 20230-0001. Scott.B.Gudes@noaa.gov

William T. Hogarth, Assistant Administrator for Fisheries, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282. Bill.Hogarth@noaa.gov

John Oliver, Deputy Administrator for Operations, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910-3282. John.Oliver@noaa.gov

James W. Balsiger, Administrator, Alaska Region, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, P.O. Box 21668, Juneau, AK 99802. Jim.Balsiger@noaa.gov

Dogulas DeMaster, Director, Alaska Fisheries Science Center, U.S. Department of Commerce, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, National Marine Fisheries Service, 7600 Sandpoint Way NE, Building 4, Seattle, WA 98115-6349. Douglas.Demaster@noaa.gov

Don Smith

dssmith@juneauempire.com

586-1428



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