BEAUFORT — The federal government has had a lab in Beaufort for about 115 years; but if the president’s proposed budget is passed, it will close.
President Barack Obama’s fiscal 2014-15 budget request has been presented to Congress for approval. This request includes a proposal to close the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab on Pivers Island.
Ciaran Clayton, director of NOAA’s Communications and External Affairs, confirmed the proposal. She said in an email to the News-Times Wednesday the lab has conducted valuable fisheries and coastal science for more than 100 years.
“However, this aging facility requires infrastructure repairs and improvements exceeding agency budget resources now and for the foreseeable future,” she said. “The president’s FY2015 budget request addresses this challenge by proposing closure of the lab. The proposal requires congressional approval."
While some of the buildings in the lab are several decades old, some new facilities have been built. The current main lab building was built in 2007. According to Dr. James Morris, a biologist at the lab, there are 70 federal employees there, as well as about 40 non-federal employees, such as contractors.
The infrastructure improvements needed, according to Ms. Clayton, would be an added expense on top of the $1.6 million the lab needs each year.
NOAA’s FY2015 budget proposal included a request to increase competitive research grants by $6 million to conduct research on coastal ocean issues. These issues include harmful algal blooms, hypoxia and coastal ecosystem assessment.
Employees were notified earlier this week of the proposed closure. Federal employees are to be retained but will be relocated, pending Congressional action. If Congress approves the proposal, the process of closing the lab could take some time.
One North Carolina congressman isn’t happy with the proposal to shut down the lab. Rep. Walter Jones, R-N.C. had his office send the News-Times a quote in an email Thursday that he’s seriously troubled by the president’s budget proposal.
“President Barack Obama has proposed closing a research lab in Eastern North Carolina while continuing to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on infrastructure projects in Afghanistan,” Rep. Jones said.
The federal government has had a marine lab in Beaufort since before NOAA officially existed. The United States Fish Commission, NOAA’s predecessor, established the lab in 1899. The lab was originally established in the Gibbs House on Front Street. In 1902, the federal marine biologists there were moved to a two-story lab on Pivers Island.
The lab operated for 25 years as a summer facility after it first opened. It began operating under NOAA in 1970, when then-President Richard Nixon established the administration.
To date the lab has been operated jointly between the NOAA Center for Coastal Fisheries and Habitat Research and the N.C. National Estuarine Research Reserve. Though they share the same building, built in 2007, the two organizations operate separately. Other structures date back to its original opening.
The federal lab conducts a number of types of coastal marine research. The lab maps and characterizes coastal habitats, such as salt marshes, seagrass meadows and coral reefs. It also conducts fisheries research, such as stock assessments, habitat dependence, ecosystem modeling, food web definition, physiology, genetics, oceanography and marine mammal and sea turtles biological studies.
Contact Mike Shutak at 252-726-7081 ext. 206, email email@example.com; or follow on Twitter at @mikesccnt.