Reed Lands New NOAA Facility and Hundreds of Jobs for RI: NAVSTA Newport to be new HQ for NOAA’s Marine Operations Center-Atlantic
Sen. Reed reels in a big catch for RI: Bringing fleet of NOAA research vessels & hundreds of jobs to RI in move that offers tremendous value for NOAA, long-term savings for taxpayers, & major economic benefits for Ocean State and future of RI’s Blue Economy | Federal project includes the construction of a new administration building, warehouse, and waterfront facilities & will cost approximately $150 million
NEWPORT, RI – After a decade of laying the groundwork in Congress and successfully directing federal resources to Rhode Island to make the project viable, U.S. Senator Jack Reed (D-RI), a senior member of the Appropriations Committee and the Chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee, today announced 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, Virginia to Naval Station (NAVSTA) Newport in Rhode Island.
NOAA MOC-A coordinates NOAA’s ships operating in the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes and serves as a homeport for some of NOAA’s flagship research vessels. NOAA has long planned to consolidate its fleet and upgrade its facilities and Senator Reed has worked to ensure Rhode Island was best-positioned to be the future homeport for NOAA MOC-A.
Senator Reed estimates the federal investment in Rhode Island for this project to be about $150 million and forecasts it will bring approximately 200 jobs to Rhode Island and generate economic activity for years to come.
Reed, who worked for over a decade to make key upgrades to NAVSTA Newport to facilitate a project like this, says the new NOAA MOC-A will include the construction of a new pier, bulkhead, and shoreside facilities to support the homeporting of four NOAA Atlantic Fleet research vessels at NAVSTA Newport along with support personnel. To make the project a reality, Senator Reed led efforts to secure appropriations for NOAA facilities in the Inflation Reduction Act (P.L. 117-169), the FY 2023 Consolidated Appropriations Act (P.L. 117-328), and previous appropriations laws. As a result of Reed’s advocacy and leadership, NOAA received $150 million in the IRA and $90 million in federal funding in the omnibus appropriations law, which will complete the funding package needed to advance construction of the pier, marine operations center, and other NOAA priorities. As a result, NOAA is moving forward with building its new MOC-A in Rhode Island and other facilities across the nation.
“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, URI, the Coast Guard, and leading ocean scientists and marine businesses. This move will create economic, research, and education opportunities for the federal government and Rhode Island,” said Reed.
In addition to the benefits of being on a secure naval facility that offers opportunities for public access, NAVSTA Newport’s location offers a number of geographic benefits, as well as opportunities to collaborate with the Naval Undersea Warfare Center (NUWC) and the University of Rhode Island Graduate School of Oceanography, while also being collocated along with Coast Guard vessels and assets. Additionally, nearby Middletown, Rhode Island is the home of the U.S. Maritime Resource Center, which trains all the uniformed deck officers for NOAA.
“NOAA is the top scientific weather and oceans agency. Bringing NOAA’s premiere research fleet and Atlantic operations center to the Ocean State means hundreds of jobs for Rhode Island and a brighter future for our Blue Economy. Naval Station Newport is a strategic location and the federal investments we’ve made here are really paying off,” said Reed. “Rhode Island will provide NOAA with the infrastructure and skilled marine labor force needed to keep its fleet strong.”
NOAA enhances economic security and national safety through the prediction and research of weather and climate-related events and information service delivery for transportation, and by providing environmental stewardship of our nation's coastal and marine resources.
“Landing this new center and research ship base further cements Rhode Island’s place as a hub of ocean research. It expands partnership opportunities, will help attract even more marine trade entities and employers, and generate economic growth for the region. This is a smart investment that will provide an economic lift and add to the marine science, discovery, and innovation of our Blue Economy ecosystem,” said Reed.
NOAA, which is part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, gathers and shares data to better understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans, and coasts. NOAA effectively serves as America's environmental intelligence agency, and is responsible for daily weather forecasts, severe storm warnings and climate monitoring, as well as fisheries management, coastal restoration, and supporting marine commerce.
“NOAA’s work helps us understand the ocean and atmosphere. It helps us make informed decisions and be better stewards of our environment and the future,” said Reed. “Bringing this new NOAA Marine Operations Center – Atlantic to Newport could also lead to the migration of other marine and science-based companies looking to move their businesses. It certainly means more cash in the community. And in addition to NOAA personnel relocating here and a spike in construction work, there will also be an opportunity to add good-paying administrative, engineering, maintenance, and logistical support jobs for Rhode Islanders.”
NOAA’s core mission functions require satellite systems, ships, buoys, aircraft, research facilities, high-performance computing and information management and distribution systems. The agency provides research-to-application capabilities that can recognize and apply significant new understanding to questions, develop research products and methods and apply emerging science and technology to user needs. NOAA invests in and depends heavily on the science, management, and engagement capabilities of its partners. Collectively, NOAA’s organizational enterprise-wide capabilities — its people, infrastructure, research and partnerships — are essential for NOAA to achieve its mission and long-term goals.
Currently, NOAA has two ships homeported at Naval Station Newport’s Pier 2 on Narragansett Bay: the 209-foot Henry B. Bigelow (R 255), which is a fisheries research vessel, and the 224-foot Okeanos Explorer (R 337), known as “America’s ship for ocean exploration,” which is dedicated to oceanographic research and conducts operations around the globe, including mapping the seafloor.
A third NOAA ship is slated to homeport at NASTA Newport: The Thomas Jefferson (S 222) is a 208-foot long deep-water hydrographic survey ship that uses sonar to map the bottom of the seafloor and provides data that informs the management of fisheries, navigation safety, ice models, hydrodynamic models, and geological work.
Additionally, a fourth NOAA vessel that will be homeported in Newport is now under construction: the 244-foot Discoverer, which will be state-of-the-art oceanographic research vessel, is currently being built in Louisiana. The ship’s sponsor is Second Gentleman Douglas C. Emhoff, and the ship is scheduled to join the fleet in 2026.
To accommodate these and future vessels, the new NAVSTA Newport site will utilize about 5 acres of federal land. The new 22,219-square foot NOAA facility will be able to support hundreds of NOAA employees and contractors, and future growth. New Pier facilities enable NOAA to consolidate ship operations as well as seawater operations, laboratory, and office space.
The new facility will have a dedicated enclosed small boat maintenance shop to support all of NOAA small boats carried on the larger ships. It will also have a dedicated floating small boat dock with an American with Disabilities Act (ADA) compliant ramp so NOAA can be more inclusive in outreach efforts and in hosting scientists, mariners, and other interested parties. The facility is designed to be climate resilient with a higher deck height adjusted for sea level rise and elevated power mounds to ensure the facility can recover within a short time after a major hurricane.
An Environmental Assessment (EA) of the proposed site has already been conducted and the EA concluded that the proposed action would have no significant impact on the environment.
While NOAA’s research ships will be out at sea far more than in port, NOAA MOC-A is a land-based command center, overseen by a NOAA Corps commanding officer and staff, as well as civilian personnel who provide logistical, engineering, electronics, maintenance, and administrative support to all the ships in NOAA’s Atlantic Fleet. People staffing MOC-A include marine engineers, electrical technicians, medical personnel, budget specialists, human resources, and more who help support NOAA’s mission.
NOAA is headquartered in Washington, DC and is comprised of six major line offices: the National Weather Service; the National Marine Fisheries Service; the National Ocean Service; the Oceanic and Atmospheric Research; the National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; and the Office of Marine and Aviation Operations.
The NOAA Corps is one of the nation’s seven uniformed services. NOAA’s fleet of ships and aircraft is operated, managed, and maintained by the NOAA Office of Marine and Aviation Operations, which includes commissioned, uniformed officers of the NOAA Corps and civilian wage mariners.
NOAA’s West Coast marine operations center, Marine Operations Center - Pacific (NOAA MOC-P) is located in Newport, Oregon.
Additionally, NOAA will upgrade and expand its Northeast 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 and in close proximity to several major fishing fleets, including Point Judith, Rhode Island, and New Bedford, Massachusetts.
NOAA is also investing in the design and construction cost for the expansion of the Narragansett Lab. The expansion will make way for its offshore wind and fisheries science program. Final designs and cost estimates of Narragansett Laboratory renovations will be completed later in calendar year 2023.
NEFSC plans to have the Narragansett Laboratory serve as a region-wide center of excellence for fisheries and offshore wind science in collaboration with state, industry and academic partners. With 2.37 million acres of offshore wind leases and 18.8 million acres in wind planning areas in the Northeast region, there is a scientific demand for NOAA Fisheries data and expertise to support the offshore wind development process.
Hiring for the NEFSC’s offshore wind and fisheries team is underway and it is expected that staffing will ramp up prior to the renovation of the Narragansett Lab. Thus, the NEFSC is adapting space at the Narragansett Lab to support initial staffing increases. The maximum capacity of the Narragansett Lab, however, will be reached rapidly with the current pace of hiring. The design of the renovation and the need to fully fund offshore wind staffing support, however, is still underway. Once the final design is complete NOAA will have a more defined cost estimate to match the proposed scope of work at the Lab.