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November 14, 2013

Kirk: NOAA pullout threat 'folly'

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.

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