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The Lab at Sandy Hook may be shut down

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Lab in the cross hairs

Once a money saver, Sandy Hook base now liability

5:30 AM, Feb. 20, 2012 |

5 Comments

 

Written by

Kirk Moore | Staff Writer

In 1997, auditors recommended expanding the James J. Howard Marine Laboratory at Sandy Hook, saying that moving scientists there from other facilities would save the federal government $5 million.

Fifteen years later, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration is now saying that closing the Sandy Hook lab is the money saver, citing the $3 million a year that it pays to operate the facility.

 

Why the difference?

 

NOAA says that it needs the $3 million it spends to operate the lab to run other critical programs, such as its satellite network and National Weather Service programs that help save lives. And as a result, the Sandy Hook lab is considered expendable.

 

But back in 1997, an audit report from NOAA’s inspector general called for closing the Milford, Conn., laboratory and shifting its jobs to Sandy Hook. The proposal to streamline the federal fisheries science establishment would have made the James J. Howard Marine Laboratory a receiving point for research and jobs from other labs, a move that auditors back then calculated would save the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration $5 million over five years.

 

That’s the opposite of a new plan revealed last week that would shift 38 Sandy Hook jobs to Connecticut to save rent money paid to the state of New Jersey.

 

NOAA hands over “the second-highest rent that we pay in the nation” at $36 a square foot, said Sam Rauch, the agency’s acting assistant administrator for fisheries, during a Friday briefing on NOAA’s proposed budget for fiscal year 2013.

 

NOAA pays a total of $3 million in current lease and other facilities costs for the Sandy Hook lab, said John Ewald, an agency spokesman.

 

The Sandy Hook lab cost $19 million when it opened in 1993, including an $8.5 million commitment in lease payments from NOAA, according to Asbury Park Press stories from the period. The Port Authority of New York and New Jersey contributed $6.5 million to construction, and New Jersey put in $4 million.

 

It’s a tough budget that holds fisheries spending at $880 million, the same as this year’s budget. It includes cuts in grants to groups that rescue stranded whales and sea turtles, and much less money for Chesapeake Bay and Pacific salmon restoration.

 

“Every one of these programs is valuable,” Rauch said, but “we had to make tough choices, this is where we decided to make them.”

 

The cuts help NOAA focus on core missions like maintaining its life-saving satellite systems and National Weather Service, Rauch said. There’s also an additional $13 million for critical fisheries management, including more for fish stock assessments and observers to keep on eye on commercial vessels, he said.

 

Fishermen upset

The move to close the Sandy Hook lab is rankling fishermen.

 

“This would be a disaster to close,” said Bruce Freeman of the Jersey Coast Anglers Association, who pointed out the lab was created in 1961 as a commitment to support recreational fisheries.

 

But Rauch said the work of Sandy Hook scientists and the 49-foot research vessel Nauvoo can be relocated to other NOAA sites, along with the Howard lab’s research library.

 

In 1997 auditors wrote that NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service would realize benefits by going in the other direction with merging the Milford, Conn., lab at Sandy Hook

 

“Maintaining the Milford lab and continuing its programs at current levels represents an inefficient use of agency funds. Our analysis and site visits have identified the James J. Howard lab as a suitable host facility for Milford’s programs and personnel,” the report says. “The lab contains a sophisticated seawater system with a modern suite of wet, dry, and analytical labs and is running under capacity.”

 

Auditors reasoned that Milford, a home to NMFS genetic and shellfish research, was doing lower priority work. But NOAA management at the time disagreed, saying the Connecticut lab had value for developing aquaculture programs— fish farming.

 

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There is a significant effort in the Mid-Atlantic Region (NY to Virginia) on ocean management, ocean observing, as well as resource management.

 

http://www.midatlanticocean.org/

 

New Jersey has been a very active partner in this endeavor.

 

There are also 5 National Estuary Programs in this region and all are supported by the advanced capabilities of the Howard Lab.

 

This facility supports restoration, fisheries, and research.

 

Closing this lab and moving the people and responsibilities to CT does not support the Mid-Atlantic Region.

 

A better idea (as recommended in the past) would be consolidating the CT lab at Sandy Hook.

 

Contact Governor Christie

 

http://www.state.nj.us/governor/contact/

 

Requesting him to reach out to NOAA on behalf of NJ to retain these jobs and this world class facility

so that NJ is known for more than the "Jersey Shore" and Snookie.

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If you needed any more proof that the state of NJ could give two ***** about its natural resources. Why in the world would they not get with NOAA and restructure the rent? That was a hypothetical question. They wont do it because they are greedy and cant un-line pockets the cash goes into, cause you know damned well it aint going towards the resource.

 

This state's Paradigm is fundamentally flawed...:(

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How would this affect MAST?

 

It doesn't.

 

The students never even see the inside of the building until their senior year and even then they only have some minor contact with what goes on there.

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NOAA does a couple of cool things via their website but overall its a useless organization. Might just be a blessing.

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Another article written by Kirk Moore the previous week in the APP.

 

NOAA Sandy Hook lab could close under Obama budget proposal

 

News Source: Asbury Park Press

 

February 13, 2012

 

By KIRK MOORE, STAFF WRITER

 

 

Months after celebrating its 50th anniversary, the storied federal fisheries laboratory at Sandy Hook is now marked for closing in the Obama administration’s budget plan, its 38 jobs to be reassigned at other National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration sites in 2013, according to agency officials and White House budget papers.

 

Named the James J. Howard Marine Laboratory after the late Democratic congressman from Monmouth County — the lab’s longtime political patron — the facility is a center for research on coastal marine fish species and NOAA’s ecosystem studies.

 

Rep. Frank J. Pallone Jr., D-N.J., said he was “totally opposed” to closing the lab and would fight to keep it open.

 

“It’s a mistake on the part of the administration because that lab is very important,” said Pallone, a Long Branch Democrat whose district includes Sandy Hook. “There is a lot of research done there that is very important not only to New Jersey but to the whole northeast coast.”

 

Sandy Hook scientists played a big role in uncovering toxic contamination in fish during the 1970s, and more recently has been investigating the effects of ocean acidification on marine life as carbon dioxide levels rise in the atmosphere.

 

“While NOAA values the activities conducted at the Sandy Hook laboratory, much of its activity can be conducted at other NOAA facilities without using leased space and incurring the associated lease costs,” agency spokesman David P. Miller said in an email response to questions Monday.

 

The consolidations would also close a NOAA port base in Charleston, S.C., and a lab in Pacific Grove., Calif. No destinations have been revealed yet for the Sandy Hook jobs, but the closest NOAA facility is another Northeast Fishery Science Center lab in Milford, Conn.

 

It’s a timely opportunity to move the Sandy Hook lab because its lease at the Department of Interior’s Gateway National Recreation Area expires in December 2013, Miller said. No jobs will be eliminated outright, and the move “will be planned to minimize disruption of the ecosystem-based research taking place at Sandy Hook,” Miller said.

 

In a statement, NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco said the agency’s proposed $5.1 billion budget “aims to provide immediate life-saving and job-supporting services needed to prepare and protect American communities and infrastructure, and invest in science and research that will enhance America’s competitiveness.”

 

That “includes tough choices and sacrifices made in the face of tightening budgets,” Lubchenco said.

 

The lab was founded in 1961 by a famed fisheries biologist, Lionel A. Walford, as the first federal research establishment dedicated to studying marine recreational species. The lab had a close association with the American Littoral Society, a nonprofit environmental group that still maintains its headquarters nearby at old Fort Hancock.

 

Walford and his colleagues used their outreach and contacts with recreational and commercial fishermen and divers to broaden research projects and get help from the coastal community. The lab’s work on bluefish earned it a cameo role in author John Hersey’s 1988 book “Blues,” a paean to that era’s enormous fishery.

 

Much of the scientists’ work focused on the New York Bight, and their findings on toxicity in fish helped drive decisions to end ocean dumping and clean up New York Harbor. The lab amassed one of the nation’s largest research libraries —some 33,000 volumes — but it was lost in a 1985 arson fire that leveled the original lab building.

 

In 1986 and 1987 Howard led an effort to get federal funding to rebuild, and a new building was started in 1989. Today it contains 11 individual seawater laboratories and a 32,000-gallon aquarium for close-up studies of fish behavior.

 

 

 

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This week the Coastal States Organization is holding their annual conference in Washington , DC

 

www.coastalstates.org

 

I was able to have "someone" place the proposed closing of the Sandy Hook Lab on the agenda during a open forum discussion meeting tomorrow evening.

 

 

Hopefully we will get some positive results.

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Kirk Moore APP Feb. 24

 

Supporters of the James J. Howard Marine Laboratory at Sandy Hook suggest the $2.8 million annual lease that federal officials pay to New Jersey could be renegotiated, as the payoff date for a 1990s building bond draws closer and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration looks to leave the facility in 2013.

 

“Everybody needs to work together to keep this lab here,” said Sean T. Dixon of the Sandy Hook-based group Clean Ocean Action, which is organizing a public campaign to reverse the Obama administration’s plan to transfer lab scientists to other NOAA facilities.

 

“This lab was vital to the response to the algae bloom last year, and to sewage spills. It’s building bridges between scientists and fishermen,” Dixon said.

 

“It’s the only lab geared up to deal with today’s issues. They just put a bunch of money into it to study ocean acidification,” said Tim Dillingham of the American Littoral Society, a conservation group whose relationship with the lab dates back to the 1960s.

 

The proposal to close the Howard lab “is merely about the lease arrangement with the state,” Dillingham said. “The state of New Jersey and the governor’s office need to get involved in this.”

 

NOAA proposal

 

Under the NOAA proposal, the Howard lab’s work and personnel would be sent to labs in Milford, Conn. on Long Island Sound, and Oxford, Md. on Chesapeake Bay. Agency officials acknowledge there may be what they call short-term disruptions to research projects, but say the work can continue in those other locations.

 

But local lab supporters say those delays could be a year or more, and that costs for moving facilities to Milford and Oxford have not been calculated.

 

“By far it’s the most modern lab,” said Greg Remaud of the NY/NJ Baykeeper program, which works with NOAA scientists on restoration projects in the harbor region. “The reason Sandy Hook was targeted is the big fat lease number. But that number isn’t just for a lease, there’s maintenance and staff in there too

 

“You have to figure out what the real costs are, and the cost for moving. Is it a real savings or is it a shell game?”

 

After a 1985 fire destroyed the original laboratory at Sandy Hook, NOAA managers then calculated it would cost $2 million to $3 million to move the lab to Rhode Island – about $4 million to $6 million in today’s dollars. That’s not counting costs for replicating things like the ocean acidification lab or a 32,000-gallon science aquarium, on of the largest on the East Coast.

 

In Washington, Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. and Sens. Frank Lautenberg and Robert Menendez, all D-N.J., are trying to get congressional budget makers to keep funding the lab.

 

Other changes to federal ocean programs are afoot with the 2013 budget proposal. The EPA could cut out $9.9 million for beach monitoring and end summer helicopter flights for testing water off New Jersey beaches, said Jeff Tittel of the Sierra Club.

 

Red flags

 

Nationally, conservation groups are raising red flags over the Obama administration’s intent to move NOAA out of the Department of Commerce — where it takes about about half the budget —and over to the Department of Interior.

 

“NOAA brings an independent perspective to key issues that is likely to be muted or lost in Interior,” wrote David Goldston of the National Resources Defense Council in an online commentary. “If NOAA is a division of Interior, the Interior Secretary can just shut NOAA up.”

 

On Thursday, NOAA officials provided a more detailed breakdown of their annual lease costs at the lab, which was completed in 1993 as a joint venture with New Jersey:

 

$2.8 million in rent for the Howard seawater laboratory and for offices in Building 74, a former Army barracks and mess hall that was renovated as part of the project completed in 1993.

 

Of that lease, $1,185,000 goes for debt service on the 20-year bond New Jersey issued to finance construction.

 

In 1997, NOAA auditors recommended closing the agency’s lab at Milford, Conn. and transferring its scientists and programs to Sandy Hook. Fifteen years later, NOAA officials say they are instead looking to close Sandy Hook because the lease expires in December 2013 and they saw an opportunity to cut those costs.

 

Asked if there are any discussions about re-negotiating the lease, NOAA spokesman David P. Miller said in an email response that “NOAA has not initiated discussions with the state about a new lease or new lease terms.”

 

That’s one line of thinking being pursued by lab supporters, said Dixon of Clean Ocean Action, which on Thursday was circulating a joint letter from environmental and civic organizations with ideas for saving the laboratory.

 

Besides the research work of its 38 staffers, the lab has “so many secondary effects” especially with education, Dixon said. School groups are frequent visitors along with programs of Brookdale Community College and the Marine Academy of Science and Technology. The lab has relationships with universities and colleges in the region and is part of a mid-Atlantic ocean observing network.

 

NOAA biologists are working on New Jersey’s Barnegat Bay restoration research projects, and will help the American Littoral Society this year with an oyster project on the bay, Dillingham said.

 

 

 

 

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How would this affect MAST?

 

How would this affect MAST?

 

It doesn't.

The students never even see the inside of the building until their senior year and even then they only have some minor contact with what goes on there.

 

Read some of the comments posted by MAST students and graduates on the petition link.

 

 

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My son is a MAST student. My info comes from him.

 

Let's be honest here, everybody screams for government cutbacks in order to reduce the tax burden right up until the moment that their pet project is threatened. Hopefully the state and the feds can negotiate a fair deal that will allow the Howard lab to stay open. If not then let the chips fall where they may.

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