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Carteret County News-Times - Important lab spared

July 21, 2014
In The News

On the chopping block for closure, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab on Pivers Island has officially been saved.

For lobbying on its behalf, we thank Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C.; Third District Rep. Walter B. Jones, Republican; Fourth District Rep. David Price, Democrat; Seventh District Rep. Mike McIntyre, Democrat, and Virginia Republican Rep. Frank Wolf, chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice and Science.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s fiscal 2015 budget had called for the lab’s closure, which had $14 million in upgrades in the past few years.

In May, the House budgeted funding for the lab, rejecting plans to consolidate National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science facilities, and in June the Senate removed the lab closure from its budget. Its continued existence will be determined in conference. If no agreement is reached before the August recess, a continuing resolution will maintain current status.

While marine sciences contribute an estimated $58 million annually to the county’s economy, the fisheries and coastal science research work done at the NOAA lab for more than 100 years has significance far beyond the county line.

Established in 1899 by the U.S. Fish Commission, predecessor to NOAA, the Pivers Island laboratory is the second oldest federal lab in the nation, encompassing programs for the National Estuarine Research Reserve, National Ocean Service and National Marine Fisheries Service.

Uniquely situated at the intersection of the ranges of Northern and Southern fish species, it’s the sole government research center between New Jersey and Miami studying Atlantic fish populations.

Established in the Gibbs House on Front Street in Beaufort, federal marine biologists were moved into a two-story facility on Pivers Island in 1902. When President Richard Nixon established NOAA in 1970, the lab was placed under its authority.

Lab staff number about 100, including 70 federal employees and about 40 contractors. Had it closed, it would have significantly impacted the county’s economy negatively.

Its location, said Congressman Jones in April, has allowed it “to contribute valuable research on an abundance of issues, including sustainable fisheries, conservation of sea turtles, dolphins, sea grass estuaries and offshore reefs, algal blooms, invasive species and changes in climate and sea levels.”

In March, Rep. Price, a member of the House Appropriations Committee, said he questioned “the wisdom of shutting down a hub for collaborative research endeavors among NOAA’s federal researchers and those in neighboring labs overseen by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Duke and ECU.

“The prospect of losing that synergy is alarming,” he continued, adding the lab’s presence helps these facilities compete for federal grants, develop research programs and pursue economic development opportunities.

Closing the lab, said Rep. Jones, would deprive the state and the East Coast of a critical tool for coastal management, research and data collection.

On behalf of everyone at the lab, we’re thankful it’s been spared and recognized for the staff’s achievements over the years.