By Isaac Bonnell
Despite a protest by the Port of Bellingham, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is sticking with its decision to move its Pacific Fleet to Newport, Ore.
The federal agency released a 69-page review in late March that stated there are no practical alternatives to locating in Newport, even though the site is in a floodplain.
“NOAA has determined the Port of Newport offer to be the highest technically-rated and lowest-priced offer, under the criteria set forth in the solicitation, and therefore represented the best value to the government,” stated the report.
In the analysis, NOAA stated that the Bellingham Shipping Terminal is not a practical alternative because it is also in a floodplain and the bid “proposed an average annual lease amount significantly above the $2.66 million prospectus level.”
Bellingham’s proposed annual lease was $4 million. The state of Oregon kicked in $19 million in subsidies, which helped lower Newport’s bid to $2.6 million.
The Port of Bellingham is currently working on a response to the report, said Port communications manager Carolyn Casey.
“We have strong concerns with the fairness of the process,” she said. “We’re disappointed that they went through this whole analysis and still came up with the same outcome.”
In August 2009, the Port of Bellingham appealed NOAA’s initial decision to move to Newport, claiming that the agency did not account for the fact that the Newport facility is in a floodplain. The Government Accountability Office (GAO) upheld the appeal in December, agreeing that NOAA did not fully address the floodplain issue.
The GAO ruling, however, did not disqualify Newport or re-open the bid. It merely stated that NOAA needed to see if any of the other bids offered a “practicable alternative” to locating the facility in a floodplain. If no alternative exists, then NOAA must address how it will deal with the risk of potential flooding in Newport.
Because NOAA’s previous assessment had determined that the Newport site was not in a floodplain, the agency this time decided to consult with the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the federal agency responsible for determining floodplain boundaries.
FEMA examined all four bids — Newport, Bellingham, Port Angeles and Seattle — and found that Seattle was the only bid that was not in a floodplain. Thus, NOAA determined that there is no practical alternative to the Newport facility. Much of the document then outlines the agency’s plan for dealing with potential flooding at the site.
The GAO has reviewed the document and concluded that the analysis meets the government’s requirement for addressing floodplain issues. The report is open for public comment until April 23, and NOAA is planning to finalize the decision by May 28.
Senator Maria Cantwell, D-Wash, however, is waiting for a report by the inspector general for final word on the process.
“This is taxpayer money on the line,” Cantwell said in a statement. “Until the IG investigation is completed, I still think it would be a prudent step for NOAA to cease all operations in Oregon. I believe what’s called for now is for NOAA to do a full environmental impact statement.”
Read the report