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Almost signed, sealed, delivered

Posted: Friday, Apr 29th, 2011

NOAA to get homeport keys today from Port of Newport officials

After 22 months of intense activity and scrutiny, the NOAA homeport project reaches its zenith today (Friday), when Port of Newport officials “turn over the keys” for the facility to a delegation from NOAA.

Port General Manager Don Mann said the delegation would “conduct their final walkthrough, determine the final rent, and provide the port a signed acceptance letter.” The letter, he added, is the focus of the supplemental lease agreement that establishes the final rent and terms.

Port commissioners amended the project contract with Day CPM in March to provide lease management services during the one-year lease warranty period.

After what Day’s Project Manager Joshua Dodson called “a thorough recruitment and interview process,” Day hired Rick Fuller “to assist with facility commissioning, project closeout, and facilities management.”

Dodson said they finished the project April 26 - five days ahead of schedule - delivering the news to the port commissioners during their regular monthly session held that same day. “We can state for a fact that we finished this project before the occupancy deadline of May 1,” he added, noting that the port received the certificate of occupancy from the City of Newport on April 26, along with a certificate of substantial completion “demonstrating to NOAA that we’re done, and here is the evidence.”

It all began in 2007, when NOAA started a selection process, looking to possibly relocate from their long-time site at Lake Union, Seattle.

The agency initially evaluated about 80 sites in the Puget Sound region and along the Oregon coast, narrowed the field to about 30, then selected 11 - Newport among them - for a February 2008 visit from the agency’s fact-finding evaluation team. Newport weathered another winnowing after NOAA sent out a request for bids in November 2008 - due by February 2009 - then pared the list geographically to Lake Union, Newport, Astoria, Bellingham, and Port Angeles. Astoria dropped out before submitting a final bid, leaving Newport as the only Oregon site among the final four.

After a lengthy, closely watched, intensely lobbied and eagerly anticipated process, NOAA officials deemed Newport as the best fit for the agency’s Marine Operations Center - Pacific (MOC-P), and publicly gave Newport the nod on Aug. 4, 2009.

With jobs, growth, and economic development at stake, a backyard brawl ensued between Oregon and Washington officials over the pending move. But while local, state, and federal officials focused on the much-anticipated economic boost, the heart of this project was and is marine science, research, and education, with Newport - in particular the South Beach peninsula, where Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and Oregon Coast Aquarium are already located - as a pivot point.

Port officials pointed to Newport as “the best working waterfront on the West Coast,” with its commercial fishing fleet, U.S. Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay, and ocean research activities. HMSC Director George Boehlert pointed out that NOAA already has a significant presence at HMSC, that the Pacific research fleet is another NOAA component that - with its 175 employees (65 on land, 110 on vessel crews) would raise the NOAA staff level on the South Beach peninsula to 600, with a combined annual budget of $70 million.

In addition to lease cost, selection considerations included NOAA’s infrastructure needs; proximity to maritime industry resources and NOAA labs; quality of life for civilian employees, officers and crew; and the ability to meet the occupancy deadline.

Port officials say persistence, perseverance, and dedication have paid off, noting that it isn’t just a port project, but a community project. NOAA officials wanted a ready-to-dock facility in place by May 1, 2011. They got it five days early.

One major snag remains.

Dodson said they are monitoring the excavated mountain of sand - an estimated 90,000 cubic yards - dubbed Mount NOAA by the public and Mount Mitigation by port officials. Several folks have hauled away about 10,000 cubic yards and a local developer is interested in taking another 15,000 cubic yards, and has offered port officials the option of moving the remainder to a nearby property about two miles south at the port’s expense.

Nothing is decided yet. Meanwhile, crews are setting up sprinklers to keep the sand from blow onto neighboring sites as the port prepares to turnover the keys to NOAA.

Mann said port officials are now focused on the details of making “a smooth transition from construction to commissioning and operation,” along with “lease interpretation and identifying leasehold responsibilities.”

Mann expects the arrival of the first NOAA research vessel sometime in June. A community open house is tentatively scheduled for Saturday or Sunday, July 16 or 17, followed by a public ribbon cutting ceremony on Friday, Aug. 12 - two years and eight days after NOAA leaders first announced its selection of Newport as the new home for its Pacific research fleet.

Terry Dillman is the assistant editor of the News-Times. Contact him at 541-265-8571, ext 225, or terrydillman@newportnewstimes.com.

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