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Q&A: NOAA Breaks Ground In Newport

Today was a big day in the Oregon coastal city of Newport. Community members and politicians gathered on the harbor front to celebrate the coming of NOAA's Pacific Research fleet.

 Port of Newport
Artist's rendering of Newport NOAA facility

Newport was actually award the right to host the fleet last summer, but the decision has been in limbo thanks to a series of challenges by officials in Washington state.

Joining us now on the phone from Newport is reporter Chris Lehman. Hi Chris.

Hi Beth.

Q:  Today's event was billed as a ground-breaking ceremony, but construction workers have actually been on the job there for awhile now, right?

Chris Lehman: That's right. In fact, I last visited Newport in January and utility crews were doing some preliminary prep work even then.

Since that time workers have cleared away several old buildings on the sight, and even during the ceremony today earth-movers were humming back and forth.

The next phase is to build all of the shore-based support buildings, and that will be followed in the fall by work on the actual in-the-water docks and piers.

Q:  So why did they wait until now to actually have this kind of public celebration.

Chris Lehman: Well in a way this is the second round of celebrations.

The first round came last summer when Newport was initially awarded the right to host the NOAA Pacific fleet. But it soon became clear that rival cities that lost the bid weren't going to take the defeat sitting down.

Washington's congressional delegation launched an all-out attack to challenge NOAA's decision, and those challenges and appeals continued even after work began on the site in Newport.

Q:  So Newport actually began building the port facilities even before they knew for sure they'd come out on top?

Chris Lehman: Yes. At no point was NOAA's decision actually reversed, so officials in Oregon figured  they had every reason to proceed. Of course, it certainly didn't hurt their cause to be able to say they'd already started work on the site. But all along Oregon politicians including the state's congressional delegation insisted they'd win out in the end. And in fact, that appears to have happened.

Q:  So there are no outstanding hurdles remaining that could stand in Newport's way?

Chris Lehman: Yes and no. Form NOAA's standpoint, this is it.

Just yesterday, they issued their final, final review of the review process, so to speak. And if you're a fan of bureaucratic jargon, you'll love what they called this last report.  It's the Final Determination Practicable Alternative Analysis.

That said, it should be noted that Washington U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell has requested a report from the Department of Commerce Inspector General's office. She wants the Inspector General to review NOAA's decision to see if they committed any procedural errors. Of course, Cantwell is concerned about her state losing out on hosting NOAA's Pacific Research fleet, which for years was based in Seattle.

It's unclear whether the Inspector General could actually overturn the NOAA decision. Both of Oregon's U.S. Senators, Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden, insist that couldn't happen. So as far as Newport is concerned, it appears to be full speed ahead with building the new facilities.

Thanks, Chris.


On the Web:

Port of Newport Website
Newport Lease Documents


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