Mayor Carolyn Kirk Thursday labeled a Senate Appropriations Committee threat to close down NOAA’s Northeast Regional Office in Gloucester and ship its 200 jobs elsewhere as “folly,” saying it represents little more than a land grab by Maryland Sen. Barbara Mikulski.
“I think it dies in the House,” Kirk said Thursday, referring to the appropriations budget provision that calls for the shuttering of the NOAA regional headquarters here as a response to Mikulski’s ongoing frustrations with NOAA. “I think they’re painting themselves into a corner on the language.”
The provision was inserted into the Commerce Department appropriations bill at the insistence of Mikulski, the Democrat who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. It states: “Given NOAA’s lack of cooperation and reversal of commitment, the committee has no choice but to take action and direct NOAA to close NERO (Northeast Regional Office) immediately, and to dissolve all necessary operations into existing facilities located throughout the region.”
Kirk said the provision is a blatant attempt by Mikulski to relocate NERO’s administrative responsibilities and staff from the four-story office building in the Blackburn Industrial Park to Maryland.
“It’s folly,” Kirk said. “The whole point is to get NERO down to Maryland.”
Still, the provision could place Massachusetts Sens. Edward Markey and Elizabeth Warren in awkward political positions if it remains in the Senate appropriations bill and survives in the House. The Senate appropriations bill also contains the much-coveted $150 million in direct disaster aid to fishermen and the fishing industry.
Markey and Warren have been at the forefront of the fight to convince Congress to appropriate the disaster funds to help Gloucester’s independent small-boat fishing fleet and other commercial fishing elements throughout the Bay State.
So, if the provision remains, the two senators would be faced with a choice of voting for the $150 million in disaster aid for the fishing industry at the expense of Massachusetts-based federal jobs.
That’s why both Markey and Warren seem more amenable to modifying the provision so it results in a restructuring of the NOAA regional headquarters and the outsourcing of some of the Gloucester-based staff and services to other NOAA offices in New Bedford and Woods Hole.
“Fishermen in Massachusetts need disaster relief, and they also need to be heard by the regulators who handle their industry,” Markey said in a prepared statement to the Times. “Restructuring the NOAA regional offices to keep staff in Massachusetts — from Gloucester to New Bedford to Woods Hole — will make sure that fishermen are being heard wherever they ply their trade.”
“The committee is intent on maintaining NOAA’s current services and plans to increase cooperation with the fishing industry by expanding the smaller regional offices located in Gloucester, New Bedford and Woods Hole,” Warren spokeswoman Lacey Rose told the Times.
That restructuring still would come at the expense of some federal jobs moving from Gloucester. But Kirk, who said she has not spoken to Warren, Markey or Gloucester-based NOAA Regional Administrator John K. Bullard on the matter, wasn’t buying that option, either.
“They just spent how many millions of dollars on the rehab of that building up there (in Blackburn Industrial Park)?” Kirk said. “I think it’s admirable that they want to try and keep it in Massachusetts, but it serves no purpose to vacate that building to put it somewhere else in Massachusetts.
“There’s no sanity in the discussion.”
Sean Horgan may be contacted at 978-283-7000 x3464, or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @SeanGDT