Review: Oregon best site for fleet

The nation's top ocean research agency said Tuesday the port of Newport on the Oregon Coast was the best base for its West Coast research fleet.

The review was the latest round of a hot political battle between Oregon and Washington over which state will provide the home port for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's four research ships.

The review was launched after the Port of Bellingham, Wash., protested NOAA's decision last December to send the fleet to Newport after a 2006 fire at its Seattle facility.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said the review was definitive, although NOAA's final decision will not be made until it reviews public comments received over the next 30 days.

"Newport and the Oregon Coast earned this because of a superior effort in the marine science field," Wyden said. "It's going to be a huge plus for creating more jobs and strengthening the economy. And a huge plus for taxpayers."

Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., disagreed, saying she looked forward to an inspector general's report for a more thorough and impartial review.

"This is taxpayer money on the line," she 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."

Cantwell also said she wanted a full environmental impact statement.

The Newport site is in a floodplain as are sites in Bellingham, Wash., and Port Angeles, Wash.

The Government Accountability Office told NOAA to see if there was a site with a better floodplain situation than Newport.

"Based on its analysis, NOAA has determined that there appears to be no practicable alternative to the Port of Newport offer," a NOAA statement said.

Basing four ships, 60 shoreside personnel and 110 crew members at Newport was estimated to pump $19 million a year into the regional economy along the Oregon shore, where tourism has not made up for downturns in logging and commercial fishing during the past two decades.

The state of Oregon kicked in $19 million that allowed Newport to significantly lower its lease bid to $2.6 million a year compared to $4 million a year for Bellingham.

NOAA has already signed a 20-year lease for $52 million for the Newport site, and work already has started on new shoreside facilities for the fleet. Work on new piers can't start until November.

The review was released by Wyden's office. NOAA said the review would be posted on its Web site today.

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