Oregon lawmakers defend NOAA base in Newport

WASHINGTON — In an escalating war of words over a plan to station NOAA research ships in Newport, Oregon lawmakers Friday accused their colleagues from Washington state of “political interference” in an attempt to reverse the surprise decision to base the fleet in Oregon.

“The Washington state delegation has leveled vague charges of flaws with the bid selection process, yet has been unable to offer any specifics because the process was, in fact, fair and transparent,” Sens. Jeff Merkley, Ron Wyden and Rep. Kurt Schrader said in a letter to Commerce Secretary Gary Locke.

Friday’s letter came in response to a letter on Wednesday from Washington state lawmakers in which the delegation told Locke the award decision was “flawed from the beginning.”

The NOAA ships are currently based in Seattle and would move to Newport when construction of new facilities is complete.

Washington lawmakers are challenging the decision, arguing among other things that the floodplain at the Newport site wasn’t sufficiently studied. At the very least, they are demanding that all construction in Newport stop until the questions are answered.

“We believe that the prudent option would be to immediately cease construction at the Newport site performed pur-suant to the flawed lease competition until NOAA has completed the necessary work it neglected to perform as part of its original site selection,” Washington’s lawmakers wrote Locke.

In its response, Merkley, Wyden and Schrader essentially told Washington to back off and stop wasting taxpayer money.

“Any time an agency makes a decision of this magnitude, particularly when jobs are at stake in an economy fraught with hardship, it is natural that a congressional delegation fiercely advocate for the best interests of its state,” Merkley, Wyden and Schrader wrote.

“It is our strong belief, however, that it would be entirely inappropriate for such advocacy to deter NOAA from the path of implementing a fair process, or to cause a waste of taxpayer funds, unnecessary bureaucratic delays, or the siting of a fleet at a far less suitable facility.”