NOAA should keep its marine operations center on Lake Union
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is expected soon to decide if it will keep its marine operations center on Lake Union or be lured to Bellingham, Port Angeles or Newport, Ore. These four Seattle leaders make the case for why the center should stay put.
THE yearlong regional competition to secure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Marine Operations Center — Pacific is nearly over.
Sometime in August the arduous process of evaluation will be complete and NOAA will make its decision to either stay on Lake Union, a place it has called home for more than 45 years, or allow itself to be lured away by Bellingham, Port Angeles or Newport, Ore.
Any city would jump at the chance to bring the NOAA facility to its community. The potential contribution to a local and regional economy is not in question, adding approximately $180 million annually, directly and indirectly, to Seattle's economic engine.
However, NOAA's economic contribution will not be a factor in its decision to stay or move. The decision, we understand, will be based on what is best for NOAA's mission and its employees.
Lake Union still offers all of the amenities it did in 1962, when the operations center first occupied its current home. These include: protected freshwater moorage, which can double the useful life of ship hulls; proximity to a robust maritime sector, 1,400 or so businesses that perform maintenance and provide provisions for many NOAA ships; access to a highly educated Seattle work force; proximity to University of Washington, where the Climate Impact Group is an integral partner with the center; and proximity to NOAA's Sand Point Facility. These are the reasons NOAA first chose to call Lake Union home, and nothing has changed.
In fact, the only way for Bellingham, Port Angeles or Newport to compete with Seattle is to offer significant government subsidies to NOAA, attempting to drive down the cost of the operation center's potential lease rate.
So, NOAA's monthly rent checks would likely be lower if the center moved. However, the increased costs associated with ship maintenance, a less-capable maritime support sector, increased employee travel to and from NOAA's Sand Point Facility and the UW, and the loss of many well-trained Seattle-based employees will surely be figured into NOAA's bottom line.
Another factor in NOAA's location decision will undoubtedly be the environmental costs of a new facility. Pier and dock replacement for the existing operations center is fully permitted, with environmental impacts and mitigation already determined. The other three potential sites all would require local, state and federal permits and major construction of new, very large docks and piers over water, and the dredging of sensitive marine nearshore habitats, the true costs of which are unknown.
Ultimately, the decision to stay or go will be made based on location, environmental responsibility and price. All things considered, we believe Lake Union is the best home for the operations center, and that choosing to stay in Seattle is a no-brainer.
Jean Godden is a member of the Seattle City Council; Bill Bryant is a Port of Seattle commissioner; Steve Welch is the CEO of Todd Pacific Shipyards; and Mark Emmert is president of the University of Washington.
Copyright © 2009 The Seattle Times Company
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