NEWPORT — The readerboard signs in town — outside businesses and even the Elks Lodge — say it all: Welcome NOAA.
Thursday, after months of political wrangling and delays, the coastal town got to officially welcome the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Marine Operations Center - Pacific.
Work already has begun on the $38 million project, which will provide a permanent West Coast home to six of NOAA’s oceanographic research ships and includes the Marine Operations Center, administrative offices, warehouse space and piers.
The community clearly was excited. An overflow crowd of area residents and media representatives showed up for the groundbreaking ceremony Thursday.
Ginny Goblirsch, the president of the Port of Newport’s Board of Commissioners, said the planners didn’t anticipate the turnout.
“When we planned this, we thought, well, Thursday morning, not many people will come,” she said, drawing laughter from the hundreds of people assembled.
Newport was selected as the site for the marine center in August 2009, beating out three finalist sites in Washington. The NOAA ships were located in Seattle until 2006.
The move to Oregon led to protests from Washington politicians, who demanded a review of the selection process. An inspector general’s report on the issue is pending, but Sen. Ron Wyden said the agency doesn’t have the power to overturn NOAA’s decision.
Newport it is.
“It’s official; it’s final; it’s here,” Goblirsch said to cheers and applause.
Oregon Gov. Ted Kulongoski spoke about the work and determination of Newport officials and partners to make the project a reality.
“You are the ones who made this happen,” he said. “You never believed the naysayers.” He drew attention to the world-class research that will be done at the site.
“This doesn’t just put Newport on the map; it puts Oregon on the map,” he said.
Rep. Kurt Schrader of Oregon’s 5th Congressional District agreed.
“It’s an honor to be here at the Woods Hole of the West,” he said, referring to the oceanographic institute in Massachusetts that is the largest such private facility in the world.
Wyden talked about the doubts that plagued the project.
A year ago, he said, “nobody thought that Newport could do this. You proved, in a field of Goliaths, that Newport was David.”
The site’s proximity to the OSU Hatfield Marine Science Center was one of the factors that set Newport apart.
Oregon State University President Ed Ray said the project showed how Oregonians can cooperate to make something world-class.
“If we come together, if we collaborate, we can compete against anybody, anywhere,” he said.
Not on the agenda of the groundbreaking ceremony was the unfurling of a banner that will hang from the Yaquina Bay Bridge. It reads, “Welcome to your new home port.” The banner will go up this weekend, but the facility isn’t expected to be completed until next June. Wyden said the accomplishment was one felt far beyond the city of Newport.
“You make Oregon proud today.”