Cantwell, Washington Delegation Members Express Concern Over NOAA's Haste to Move Puget Sound Port

Letter lays out legal steps required prior to relocating Pacific fleet

SEATTLE, WA –Today, Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), joined by Senator Patty Murray (D-WA), and six members of the Washington state congressional delegation, wrote to top Commerce Department officials to express strong concerns over the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) rush to move its Pacific fleet from Puget Sound to Newport, Oregon.


In their letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke and Under Secretary Jane Lubchenco, the lawmakers ask how NOAA intends to respond to last December’s Government Accountability Office (GAO) opinion that raised serious questions over NOAA’s decision-making process that led to its surprise conclusion to relocate its Pacific fleet. The letter, spearheaded by Cantwell, lays out the next legal steps NOAA is required to follow before relocating its Marine Operations Center-Pacific (MOC-P) facility from Puget Sound. Last December, the GAO wrote that NOAA’s initial decision to move the home port to Newport violated the rules for the home port competition since the Newport location lies in a floodplain. NOAA selected the Oregon port over three competing bidders in Puget Sound. Citing the GAO’s findings, the delegation members called on NOAA and the Department of Commerce to follow the GAO’s recommendation and comply with the floodplain restrictions of Executive Order 11988. In today’s letter, Cantwell and other Washington delegation members call for the following:


·         Under the law, the default assumption is that there is a “practicable alternative” to locating MOC-P in a floodplain, and in order to move forward with the relocation to Newport the government must factually demonstrate otherwise;

·         Under Executive Order 11988, NOAA must conduct a full-blown Environmental Impact Statement;

·         Under Executive Order 11988, NOAA must provide opportunity for public comment; and

·         NOAA must conduct an Endangered Species Act (ESA) biological opinion since the proposed MOC-P facility in Newport is located in officially-designated critical habitat of the ESA-listed green sturgeon.


“In our view, these are very important procedural steps designed to provide public input, to ensure a robust environmental review and prevent a legal challenge to the decision. …Simply stated, it is our view that again issuing a pro-forma finding of no significant environmental impact (‘FONSI’) would not be proper or sufficient. …In light of these important issues we expect that NOAA will instruct Newport to stop spending public funds until the GAO-recommended process is completed. Otherwise, a decision to locate the MOC-P facility elsewhere will result in increased costs to the taxpayers and damage to NOAA,” the letter states.


The letter was signed by Senators Cantwell and Murray, and Reps. Dicks, McDermott, Inslee, Baird, Larsen, and Reichert. Click here to view the letter sent today to Commerce Secretary Locke and Under Secretary Lubchenco.