NOAA closing in
on new Oahu site

The agency winnows its
choices down to Kakaako,
Kaneohe and Ford Island

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has narrowed to three the possible sites for a new office and laboratory building on Oahu, its director confirmed yesterday.

Windward Community College in Kaneohe, state land in Kakaako and the Navy's Ford Island would all be excellent locations for the facility, said NOAA Administrator Conrad Lautenbacher Jr. Each site has attributes and drawbacks to be weighed as the agency makes a final decision, he said.

For example, Lautenbacher said, the Windward Community College campus would provide a pleasant workplace and close affiliation with University of Hawaii marine science researchers, but it could not provide berths for NOAA's three ocean research vessels.

Ford Island would provide nearby deep-draft harbor berths, and Kakaako would be the closest to agency employees at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, he said.

Lautenbacher, who is in Honolulu for the commissioning of the new NOAA research ship Hiialakai today, would not say which of the finalist sites is likely to emerge as the chosen one.

"We know we want pleasant, productive surroundings" that will provide a good working environment for NOAA scientists and their collaborators, Lautenbacher said.

The new building is expected to house 450 NOAA employees. It would consolidate the workplace for about 260 NOAA employees who work at numerous Oahu locations, and it would make room for up to 190 new employees and expanded research. The agency has budgeted $29 million for planning, design and early construction for the new NOAA center but has not released estimates of the total cost.

The Pacific Division of the Naval Facilities Engineering Command will manage the project for NOAA, including development of an environmental impact statement that will compare the sites, Lautenbacher said. Under the EIS process, people can comment on the locations at public hearings.

NOAA is part of the federal Department of Commerce and includes the National Weather Service, National Marine Fisheries Service and National Marine Sanctuary Program.

The proposed building would have 400,000 square feet of space -- about one-quarter the size of Ala Moana Center.

A NOAA study estimated the project would provide $40 million in construction-related jobs over two years.



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