Port decides against NOAA protest

The Bellingham Business Journal

The Port of Bellingham has decided to not submit a formal protest to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) about its site selection and lease acquisition process for the Pacific Research Fleet.

The key reason the Board of Commissioners did not submit a protest was because analysis demonstrated that Bellingham likely would not be chosen even if it won a protest on several technical rating issues. Plus, pursuing a protest could cost up to $300,000 in Port funds that would be unrecoverable, according to legal experts the Port consulted prior to the decision.

“While we are very disappointed that Bellingham was not selected, we do not believe it is in the best public interest to launch a legal protest,” said Port Commission Vice President Jim Jorgensen. “We believe that a protest might result in moderate changes to our odds, but would not cause NOAA to change its site decision in favor of Bellingham.”

In early August, NOAA announced that it had selected Newport, Ore., for the Pacific Research Fleet homeport facility. The facility is currently located on Lake Union in Seattle. The Seattle location, as well as the Port of Bellingham and the Port of Port Angeles were all in competition with Newport for a 20-year lease for the ships and their support facilities.

On Aug. 17, Port officials travelled to Seattle for a three-hour debriefing from NOAA about its selection process. In that debriefing, Port officials were told how the Bellingham Shipping Terminal ranked in a long list of categories, in comparison with the other locations.

The state of Oregon provided nearly $20 million in bonding capacity to the Port of Newport’s project, which allowed Newport to greatly reduce its project costs. This state assistance resulted in Newport’s lease proposal being $1.5 million a year less than the Bellingham offer. The Newport site also rated higher both in the site technical comparison and in the price comparison.

Port Interim Executive Director Fred Seeger recommended the Commission not pursue a protest of the site selection process.

“We have spent the past two weeks gathering information and have learned that — even if we proved there were discrepancies in the technical evaluation process — that likely would not overcome the significant price difference being offered by Newport and the State of Oregon,” Seeger said.

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