NOAA chooses Newport instead of Bellingham

By Lance Henderson

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) announced Tuesday that Newport, Ore., not Bellingham, will be the new headquarters of its Marine Operations Center-Pacific. Seattle and Port Angeles were also in the running.

The center, currently located on Lake Union in Seattle, comes with an estimated 188 employees who will work on the center’s six research vessels.

Port officials were disappointed when they heard that their bid to attract NOAA’s Pacific research fleet was not successful.

“We knew it would be an uphill battle,” said Port Commission President Scott Walker. “I applaud the port staff and the entire community for its hard work in making the best case possible for Bellingham.”

Rep. Rick Larsen (D-Lake Stevens), who championed Bellingham as a prime location for quite some time, said he had hoped for a different decision.

“I have long believed that Bellingham would offer the best new home for NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Pacific,” Larsen said in a press release. “Our community, including the port, city, our education partners, marine trades industry and local leaders made a true team effort to bring NOAA to Bellingham. I commend our community for their unity and cooperation in the competition for NOAA’s new home.”

Some have speculated that NOAA passing on Bellingham would affect Western Washington University’s plans for a campus on the waterfront. However, Paul Cocke, director of Western’s Office of University Communications, said the college’s support for a waterfront campus remains strong.

“Western remains firmly committed to being on the Bellingham waterfront. The decision by NOAA in no way changes that,” Cocke said. “While the close proximity of NOAA to the university would have enhanced many educational partnerships between Western and NOAA, it is important to note that the university for years has been an active partner with NOAA in areas of research and education and will continue to do so in the future. For example, NOAA recently awarded two grants totaling $950,000 to Western’s Shannon Point Marine Center in Anacortes to study why certain kinds of algae create toxic blooms in Puget Sound waters.”

NOAA’s 20-year lease with Newport will begin in 2011.

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