My Turn: Juneau should facilitate NOAA project

Posted: Monday, August 12, 2002

The discussion about the whether or not construction of the new NOAA fisheries laboratory at Point Lena should take place would be amusing if the topic were not of vital importance to Juneau's future.

Construction of the new facility is a "no-brainer" for a host of reasons, the obvious positive economic benefits actually being the least significant.

Sure, there are some relatively minor problems with locating a new scientific campus complex in an undeveloped neighborhood. And yes, some of the folks working for NOAA at the existing Auke Bay laboratory would just as soon remodel the old facility and not relocate to Point Lena. As a matter of fact, the city of Juneau has done a commendable job working with the Alaska delegation to locate and build a new fisheries center in Juneau. Working in conjunction with the University of Alaska, the city has worked closely with Sen. Ted Stevens to build a complex that will allow Alaska-based scientific and governmental staff to manage Alaska's world-class fish and ocean resources. A failure to find the funding to allow immediate construction of the proposed NOAA facility may well result in the loss of a golden opportunity for our community and state.

In addition to providing the necessary facilities to guarantee that Alaska ocean resource decisions will be made by individuals living in Alaska, the University of Alaska will greatly benefit by building a companion facility at the Point Lena location. Plans and funding are well advanced for the University of Alaska's portion of the Point Lena complex. Failure to proceed with the NOAA portion of the complex may halt work by the university.

Construction of the new scientific and education complex valued in excess of $80 million will have an immediate and positive economic benefit in Juneau. The construction jobs and economic opportunities associated with a construction project of this magnitude are obvious.

Besides the economic benefits that will flow from building a new NOAA and University of Alaska facility, the prospect of landing the long-term payroll associated with the laboratory and education complex are tremendous. We're not talking about creating entry-level service-sector jobs that pay a couple bucks above minimum wage here, folks. This isn't a proposal to build a smelter downtown or a pulp mill out in Berners Bay. These are terrific jobs that will be locked into Juneau on a long-term basis.

And, most importantly, the kind of individuals and families that will be employed at the new facility are exactly the kind of folks who will make solid contributions to our schools, cultural and volunteer programs. The jobs associated with the proposed facilities are exactly the kind of jobs everyone involved with intelligent community development claims to desire.

Juneau simply cannot do anything other than support and encourage development of the NOAA and University of Alaska complex. Ted Stevens has been the prime mover of this project for years. The city has solidly supported this project for years.

Juneau, with or without the immediate assistance of the University of Alaska, should take whatever steps are necessary to provide an immediate bridge loan or other financial guarantee that will allow the federal government to immediately proceed with construction of the new NOAA facility. There is some chance the Congress will reimburse Juneau for making up the shortfall in funds available to commence construction. Even if the funds are never reimbursed, Juneau owes it to every resident of our community, the region and the state to facilitate construction of this worthy project.

Joe Geldhof is a Juneau resident and lawyer.

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