Congress has approved the final piece of funding for a new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries center planned for Lena Point.
A Commerce, Justice and State funding bill includes $21.1 million for the $50 million fisheries research center. Approved by the House on Wednesday and the Senate on Thursday, the bill now goes to the president for his signature.
"Clearly if the conference mark survives and becomes an appropriation, it's the last bit of funding," said John Gorman, a program manager for the Alaska Region of the National Marine Fisheries Service, a NOAA agency.
NOAA plans to award a site preparation and construction contract in late spring or early summer with work to start next summer, Gorman said.
"We're excited it's moving ahead and happy for the support from the city. We're looking forward to a successful project," Gorman said.
The 69,000-square-foot fisheries center will have room for 107 employees. Current timelines call for completion date in late summer or fall 2004, Gorman said.
Earlier this year, the House had appropriated $5.8 million for the center while the Senate had set aside $21.1 million. The final version irons out the difference, providing the full $21.1 million.
The NOAA fisheries center will be part of a complex designed to include a new University of Alaska fisheries and ocean sciences
building. The university's Board of
Regents last week made the project its top capital budget priority for new construction, asking the state for $18 million.
The NOAA project has been criticized by some former and current NOAA Auke Bay lab employees and Lena Point residents. Employees, residents and others picketed a meeting between NOAA officials and congressional staffers last summer, asking them to keep operations at the Auke Bay lab.
The city recently finished a draft environmental assessment studying traffic and access to the NOAA center, picking a road that will go through the southern interior of Lena Point. The road will connect with South Lena Loop Road near Towers Road. NOAA is now reviewing the access study, according to Rorie Watt of the city's engineering division.
The road decision drew objections from the Lena Extended Neighborhood Association, which has advocated for separate, dedicated access to the NOAA center.
Watt expects the road project to go out to bid this spring with work scheduled to start in the summer. The project should take two summers to complete, he said.
Joanna Markell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.