Cantwell and Members of Washington Delegation Urge NOAA to Re-Examine Marine Operations Center Move

WASHINGTON, DC –Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), along with other members of the Washington state Congressional delegation sent a letter to Secretary of Commerce Gary Locke and Undersecretary Jane Lubchenco, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) expressing continued concern over the decision to move NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Pacific from its decades-long home in the Puget Sound to Newport, Oregon.


“While the GAO continues to examine whether the competition for this facility was fair, I also have a number of larger policy concerns that I feel haven’t been addressed yet,” said Cantwell. “For centuries, mariners have utilized the strategic and logistic benefits of the Puget Sound.  I question whether this move will truly advance the scientific mission of NOAA.” 


“This move takes NOAA further away from its employees and mission, not closer,” said Senator Patty Murray.  “And because of the logistical hurdles this move creates, we need to take a hard look at how this decision was made. The Puget Sound has been home to NOAA for decades because it provides the people, resources and setting that help the agency best carry out their important mission.”


In a letter written by Governor Chris Gregoire to Locke and Lubchenco last week, she stated:  "For decades, NOAA's Marine Operations Center-Pacific (MOC-P) has made its home in Puget Sound.  From its strategic location, NOAA has been able to capitalize on having many of its facilities located throughout Puget Sound...With NOAA's intention to move the MOC-P to Newport, Oregon, all of the benefits of having these core facilities proximately located - and that are, taken together, critical to NOAA's success - would be lost."


The letter, which is copied below, requested that the Department conduct an independent review of the potential damage a move to Oregon may have on NOAA’s ability to fulfill its scientific missions. 


Cantwell is the Chair of the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard, which oversees NOAA.


Text of Letter:

October 13, 2009


The Honorable Gary Locke                              The Honorable Jane Lubchenco

Secretary                                                          Under Secretary for Oceans and Atmosphere

Department of Commerce                                 Department of Commerce

1401 Constitution Ave NW                              1401 Constitution Ave NW, Room 5128

Washington, DC 20230                                    Washington, DC 20230



Dear Secretary Locke and Under Secretary Lubchenco:


We continue to have serious concerns about NOAA’s proposed move of its Marine Operations Center-Pacific from its decades-long home in the Puget Sound to a new location in Newport, Oregon.  In particular, we are extremely concerned about possible negative consequences and costs such a move will have on NOAA’s ability to carry out its scientific missions. 


NOAA’s proposed move threatens the collaboration that helps NOAA researchers need to advance the agency’s scientific mission.  Indeed, NOAA recognized the importance of proximity to other NOAA facilities by including “Proximity to the NOAA Western Regional Center” on Sand Point Way as a key factor in the Solicitation for Offer.  Only ports in the Puget Sound provide this proximity to the Regional Center as well as proximity to a large number of other NOAA facilities.  For example:


·        NOAA’s Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research (OAR) has one of its nine nation-wide major facilities located in the Puget Sound, the Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, while Oregon has no major OAR facilities.

·        NOAA’s National Ocean Service (NOS) has five facilities located throughout the Puget Sound, including the NOAA Hazardous Materials Response Division.  Meanwhile, Oregon has no major NOS facilities.

·        NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has five major facilities throughout Washington State, several of which serve as the agency’s major regional hubs for fisheries science research: the Alaska Fisheries Science Center, Northwest Fisheries Science Center, NMFS Northwest Regional Office, Pasco Research Station, and Mukilteo Research Station.  Oregon only houses the Newport Research Station and Laboratory and the Point Adams Research Station in Hammond, Oregon.


NOAA researchers from these facilities are the intended users and beneficiaries of the vessels that will be homeported at the MOC-P, and relocating the ships to Newport would dramatically diminish the ease and ability of NOAA’s scientists to access their own research vessels.  In contrast, the Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, Oregon is located over 300 miles from NOAA’s major research facilities listed above, and the Hatfield Science Center is not a NOAA facility but is a marine laboratory for Oregon State University


Transporting NOAA researchers from their facilities in the Puget Sound to their vessels in Newport is both expensive and inconvenient.  Newport, Oregon is a roughly a 300-mile drive from Seattle, a 150-mile drive from the nearest major airport in Portland, and Newport’s local airport is serviced by only one small, regional airline.  NOAA’s scientists should be focusing their time, energy, and creativity on collaborating to achieve groundbreaking science, not on figuring out how to cope with extra logistical hurdles of how to travel hundreds of miles to access a research vessel. 


This distance is particularly problematic for outside scientists wishing to collaborate with NOAA scientists and conduct research on NOAA’s research vessels.  In an age where collaboration is such a key factor in creating good science, it seems ironic that NOAA would add such hurdles discouraging collaboration, rather than making collaboration as logistically easy as possible. 


We believe NOAA did not sufficiently consider the costs of moving its research vessels hundreds of miles away from the very researchers and scientists who will utilize those vessels the most.  We request that you take a fresh look at these vital questions and conduct a formal independent review of these logistical hurdles’ implications in the context of whether moving NOAA’s Marine Operations Center – Pacific to Newport, Oregon is truly a wise decision for NOAA, its employees, and its scientific missions.




Senators Maria Cantwell and Patty Murray

Representatives Jim McDermott, Jay Inslee, Brian Baird, Rick Larsen, and Dave Reichert