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Carteret County Times-News - (Editorial) Maintain the NOAA lab

April 11, 2014
In The News

By Editorial Board
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab on Pivers Island is a cornerstone of the county’s scientific research sector, which many here desire to see grow in years ahead, but the NOAA lab’s existence is now threatened.

The U.S. Commerce Department’s fiscal 2015 budget includes a request to close the lab. The plan is cause for serious concern.

The federal government has operated a marine lab in Beaufort since before NOAA officially existed. The U.S. Fish Commission, NOAA’s predecessor, established the lab in 1899. Originally established in the Gibbs House on Front Street, the federal marine biologists there were moved in 1902 to a two-story facility on Pivers Island. The lab has operated under NOAA’s authority since 1970, when then-President Richard Nixon established the administration.

About 70 federal employees work at the NOAA lab along with about 40 contract workers. That amounts to a significant negative impact to the economy in Carteret County, if the lab were to be closed. In total, marine sciences contribute an estimated $58 million annually to the economy here, but the issue is not just a local concern.

The fisheries and coastal science research work done here for more than 100 years has significance far beyond the county line. The importance of that work is getting notice in Congress.

According to a press release issued Tuesday by Rep. Walter Jones’ office, the lab is the sole government research center between New Jersey and Miami studying Atlantic fish populations and is uniquely situated at the intersection of the ranges of northern and southern fish species.

“This location has allowed the lab to contribute valuable research on an abundance of issues, including sustainable fisheries; conservation of sea turtles, dolphins, seagrass estuaries, and offshore reefs; algal blooms; invasive species; and changes in climate and sea levels,” the congressman’s office said.

Rep. Jones has taken the lead in an effort to keep the lab open. In a letter, Rep. Jones and Rep. Mike McIntyre, D-N.C., ask for language forbidding the closure of the lab to be included in the fiscal 2015 Legislative Branch Appropriations Act.

The letter reached U.S. Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., chairman of the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies. Rep. Wolf replied that he shares similar concerns.

“I look forward to continuing to work with you in the coming months to maintain the effective science program at the Beaufort lab,” according to his reply, in which the word “maintain” was double underscored in ink.

Rep. David Price, D-N.C., who sits on the House Appropriations Committee, expressed similar concern.

“I question the wisdom of shutting down a hub for collaborative research endeavors among NOAA’s federal researchers and those located in neighboring labs overseen by the N.C. Division of Coastal Management, UNC Chapel Hill, N.C. State, Duke and ECU,” he said.

Rep. Price said the lab’s presence helps the facilities he mentioned compete for federal grants, develop research programs and pursue economic development opportunities.

“The prospect of losing that synergy is alarming,” he said. “I’m going to be sharply questioning this decision as the Appropriations Committee considers the Commerce, Justice, Science funding bill.”

The lab has been targeted for closure based on the claimed need for repairs and improvements at the facility’s older buildings, but as Rep. Jones’ office noted, those needs were not documented and $14 million has been invested in upgrades in recent years.

As articulated by the congressmen, closing the NOAA lab here would deprive the state and the entire East Coast of a critical tool for coastal management, research and data collection. It’s also part of the county’s marine heritage. We support efforts to keep it open.