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Originally published Friday, December 7, 2007 at 12:00 AM

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Guest columnist

Keep NOAA in Seattle

Seattle risks losing one of its most valued and most historic maritime presences. What's at risk is Seattle's designation as the homeport...

Seattle risks losing one of its most valued and most historic maritime presences.

What's at risk is Seattle's designation as the homeport of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

For more than a century, the U.S. government has stationed the research ships of the Pacific fleet in Seattle. NOAA's fleet contributes to our economy and to our culture. Its employees and their families have established roots here and become members of the larger community.

(Full disclosure: I arrived in Seattle, age 17, brought here by my father, an officer in the U.S. Coast & Geodetic Survey, which later became part of NOAA.)

However, Seattle is not alone in valuing NOAA. Other West Coast cities would dearly love to have the survey vessels stationed in their ports. They have been urging the federal government to move the fleet from its historic mooring.

The impacts of moving NOAA elsewhere would be huge. In Seattle, more than 1,400 small- to mid-sized businesses have provided ship repair, maintenance and support services during its century-long presence here.

Skilled craftspeople make up Seattle's marine industrial work force. Represented are members of 11 trade unions. These craftsmen and women should not have to watch the skilled jobs they perform leave town.

The Seattle City Council earlier this year passed a resolution recognizing NOAA's historic contributions to our maritime community and unanimously urged NOAA to maintain its marine operations at Lake Union in Seattle.

NOAA's current lease at Lake Union will expire in 2011. The federal government is undertaking a homeport study to determine whether NOAA should remain on Lake Union, or look elsewhere. Alaska and Hawaii are among those jostling for consideration.

These overtures have occurred despite the many benefits that accrue from maintaining the homeport here.

To mention only a few: Lake Union, where federal research ships have been berthed for 40 years, offers freshwater moorage, which protects the ships' hulls from the destructive qualities of saltwater moorage. Rough estimates are that the ships' hulls have twice the life of ships berthed solely in saltwater. There are also a number of advantages to docking where tides are not a daily consideration.

NOAA's presence involves more than the location where ships tie up. The scientific mission of NOAA means the ships and personnel need to be near the laboratories and research resources that support the agency's work. One example of NOAA's valuable local partnerships is with the University of Washington's Climate Impacts Group.

Dozens of businesses, regional governments and neighborhood associations have written in support of the Lake Union facility. I hope many others will add their voices to support NOAA remaining here.

Jean Godden chairs the Seattle City Council's Energy and Technology Committee and can be reached at jean.godden@seattle.gov

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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