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NOAA to Build $150M Marine Research Facility at Rhode Island's Naval Station Newport

Wed March 22, 2023 - Northeast Edition
The Providence Journal & Office of U.S. Sen. Jack Reed

The U.S. government is finalizing plans to relocate the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Operations Center - Atlantic (NOAA MOC-A) from Norfolk, Va., to Naval Station (NAVSTA) Newport in Rhode Island. (Rendering courtesy of U.S. Senator Jack Reed)
The U.S. government is finalizing plans to relocate the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Marine Operations Center - Atlantic (NOAA MOC-A) from Norfolk, Va., to Naval Station (NAVSTA) Newport in Rhode Island. (Rendering courtesy of U.S. Senator Jack Reed)

The Biden administration is preparing to build a $150 million marine facility at Naval Station Newport in Rhode Island that will serve as home port for four federal research vessels, U.S. Sen. Jack Reed announced March 15.

The new National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Marine Operations Center-Atlantic (MOC-A) will replace a base in Norfolk, Va., that coordinates U.S. ships sailing in the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. It will include a new office building, warehouse, small-boat maintenance shop, bulkhead and pier, the Providence Journal reported.

The project will create 200 jobs, according to a news release from Reed's office, although some of them will be at sea for much of the year.

"This is a major win for Rhode Island and our blue economy that will help NOAA improve mission fulfillment while achieving savings through consolidation and enhancing collaboration with the Navy, the University of Rhode Island [URI], the Coast Guard, and leading ocean scientists and marine businesses," Reed added.

Chip Unruh, a spokesperson of the senator, wrote in an email to the Providence Journal that if all goes according to plan, a construction contract for the new base could be awarded this fall and the project will be finished about two years after that.

Funding for the new facility was included in the Inflation Reduction Act and in the recently passed federal appropriations bill.

Reed, a senior Senate Appropriations Committee member and the Armed Services Committee chair, said that he has worked for over a decade to make key upgrades to Naval Station Newport to facilitate a project like this. The move also will allow NOAA to upgrade its facilities, with other marine and science-based companies potentially moving their businesses to the area.

The new research base will have dedicated enclosed small boat maintenance shops, a dedicated floating small boat dock with an American with Disabilities Act (ADA)-compliant ramp, and elevated power mounds to ensure the facility can recover within a short time after a major hurricane. The base also is designed to be climate-resilient with a higher deck height adjusted for sea level rise.

Reed said shifting NOAA MOC-A to Rhode Island will bring significant benefits to the area, including the opportunity to collaborate with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center and the UNI Graduate School of Oceanography. Additionally, the nearby U.S. Maritime Resource Center will train all the uniformed deck officers for NOAA.

Why is a New NOAA Base Coming to Naval Station Newport?

NOAA has been consolidating its fleet and many of its port facilities, which led Reed to lobby to have the new port established in Rhode Island. Two NOAA ships are already based in Newport, and the U.S. Maritime Resource Center, where NOAA's deck officers are trained, is in neighboring Middletown.

The two NOAA vessels already based in Newport are the 209-ft. Henry B. Bigelow, which does fisheries research, and the 224-ft. Okeanos Explorer, which maps the seafloor. Eventually, the 208-ft. deep-water hydrographic survey ship Thomas Jefferson, and the 244-ft. Discoverer, now under construction, also will use Newport as their home bases.

"Landing this new center and research ship base further cements Rhode Island's place as a hub of ocean research," Reed explained in the news release. "It expands partnership opportunities, will help attract even more marine-trade entities and employers, and generate economic growth for the region."

Skilled Marine Labor Force Already Present

The new base will be built on five acres at Naval Station Newport, and shoreside employees there will include marine engineers, electrical technicians, medical personnel, budget specialists and human resources administrators.

"NOAA is the [U.S.'s] top scientific weather and oceans agency," Reed continued. "Bringing NOAA's premiere research fleet and Atlantic operations center to the Ocean State means hundreds of jobs for Rhode Island. Naval Station Newport is a strategic location and the federal investments we've made here are really paying off. Rhode Island will provide NOAA with the infrastructure and skilled marine labor force needed to keep its fleet strong."

NOAA is governed by the U.S. Commerce Department, led by Secretary Gina Raimondo, the former Rhode Island governor.

Separately, the five-time Democratic senator said NOAA plans to upgrade and expand its National Marine Fisheries Science Center's (NFSC) Narragansett Laboratory, which is currently located on three acres of federally owned land overlooking Narragansett Bay, near URI's Graduate School of Oceanography, as well as several major fishing fleets. Reed added NFSC is beginning design work and cost estimates for that project.

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