The U.S. Senate Appropriations Committee approved a fiscal 2013 spending plan for NOAA today that includes an amendment to close the Northeast Regional Office of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester and move the bulk of fisheries management, administration and law enforcement to Silver Spring, Md.
Federal lawmakers from Massachusetts vowed a fight to keep open the NOAA/NMFS office in Gloucester, which was privately developed and built to specs provided by the General Services Administration.
The local building, NOAA's newest and spiffiest regional headquarters among eight, is assessed at nearly $13 million, and pays the city $169,185 a year in Thursday taxes.
The amendment that would pull the regional headquarters to Maryland was sponsored by Sen. Barbara Mikulski, who chairs the Appropriations Committee's Subcommittee on Commerce, Science, Justice and Related Agencies. The Maryland Democrat said the region's federal waters are vast, extending from Maine to North Carolina and "we in the Bay (Chesapeake Bay) don't get calls back ... This office provides problems at many levels."
"Better centrally locating the facility at NMFS headquarters would allow for greater coordination with senior management at NOAA and the Department (of Commerce), while saving an estimated $1.8 million on rent and a yet unspecified amount on travel costs," the Mikulski subcommittee said in its markup. The budget flew through the full committee.
But opposition to any shutdown of the regional office in Blackburn Industrial Park, which according to the subcommittee markup of the NOAA budget, "may leave a small local presence in the areas," was voiced immediately by both U.S. senators from Massachusetts, by Congressman John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and former Mayor John Bell.
"I am disappointed the subcommittee would recommend closing the Northeast Regional Office at such a critical time for New England fisheries," said Brown. "NOAA is already too disconnected from our fishing communities. Moving their New England staff to headquarters in Washington can only make the situation worse."
For much more on this story, look to tomorrow's print and online editions of the Gloucester Daily Times and gloucestertimes.com.
Richard Gaines can be reached at 978-283-7000, x3464, or at firstname.lastname@example.org.