Newport celebrates NOAA fleet move

NOAA R/V Miller FreemanNEWPORT – The impending arrival of  the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific research fleet is being celebrated in Newport this week with ceremony, festivities – and visits from a pair of the vessels that will eventually be berthed here.

Oregon Governor Ted Kulongoski, Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Congressman Kurt Schrader were among the officials expected on hand to break ground for the new facility, dubbed “Marine Operations Center – Pacific” – or NOAA MOC-P, in government parlance.

The ceremony was also expected to mark the end of a bureaucratic battle with the state of Washington, which has raised numerous objections to NOAA’s decision,  announced last year, to move its operations center from Seattle to the central Oregon coast.  Governor Kulongoski and others said they expected to get the final word that the agency had affirmed its decision just before this morning’s groundbreaking.

The $35 million, five-acre facility is scheduled to open in June 2011, with a staff of 175, including 110 officers. It will be home port to four ships and host visiting ships, as well. It will mean hundreds of family-wage jobs for the Newport area, and it’s expected to pump $19 million a year into a local economy hit hard by fishing cutbacks and the global economic slump.

The Port of Newport was able to make the winning bid largely because the state had offered $19.5 million in Oregon Lottery funds to the project, allowing the port to offer a 20-year lease for only $2.4 million.

This weekend’s celebration includes a family-style “welcome” picnic from 1-4 pm Sunday under a a tent at the construction site, just west of Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center. The event, open to the public will include live music and  refreshments, and a chance for local residents to meet some of the team charged with getting the new operations center up and running.

In addition, if weather permits, two of the NOAA research vessels that will be relocating to Newport are expected to visit this weekend. the R/V Miller Freeman is expected to arrive Saturday afternoon, followed on Sunday by the R/V Bell M. Shimada, with an honorary Coast Guard escort and vessels from the Newport commercial fishing fleet on hand to welcome the ships and their crews.

(Photo of R/V Miller Freeman courtesy of striatic)

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