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NOAA moving operations from Norfolk to Rhode Island due to 'economic feasibility'

The federal agency says there will be no reduction in NOAA ship mission operations in the Norfolk and Chesapeake Bay areas.

NORFOLK, Va. — The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) operations center facility in downtown Norfolk will soon be moving out of Hampton Roads. 

In a statement to constituents on March 15, Senator Jack Reed of Rhode Island announced that the facility would be moving to Naval Station Newport (NAVSTA.)

“Landing this new center and research ship base further cements Rhode Island’s place as a hub of ocean research.  It expands partnership opportunities, will help attract even more marine trade entities and employers, and generate economic growth for the region," Reed said in the statement.

"This is a smart investment that will provide an economic lift and add to the marine science, discovery, and innovation of our Blue Economy ecosystem." 

The statement goes on to say that NOAA has been planning to consolidate parts of their East Coast research facilities, and NAVSTA provides the benefit of being a secure military base, as well as a better geographic location for the work they do.

The agency studies the environment and how to conserve our coastal and marine resources. The downtown Norfolk facility currently coordinates NOAA’s ships operating in the Atlantic Ocean and Great Lakes and is a hub for some of the science-based agency’s flagship vessels.

Approximately 60 people work out of the Norfolk office, and a NOAA spokeswoman said it is too early in the process to know how many employees will move.

This move will be a $150 million project, but it is expected to bring roughly 200 jobs to Rhode Island. 

Keeley Belva, a media representative from NOAA, provided the following statement to 13News Now: 

"Based on several studies, including an independent business case analysis completed in 2017, NOAA has determined it is no longer operationally or economically feasible to maintain the Marine Operations Center - Atlantic in Norfolk, Virginia, and has decided to relocate the center to Naval Station Newport, Rhode Island.

"The consolidation will result in more efficient ship operations and long-term cost savings through sharing common capabilities...There will be no reduction in NOAA ship mission operations in the Norfolk and Chesapeake Bay areas as a result of the relocation. "

Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner said they are "disappointed."

“I’m disappointed that NOAA’s marine operations center and the homeport of the Thomas Jefferson are being relocated," said Kaine. "Senator Warner and I urged NOAA to keep these critical resources in Virginia, but I remain thankful to NOAA and their staff for their contributions to the Commonwealth throughout the years and to America’s scientific research in the years to come.”

So what happens to the buildings left behind? They could wind up in the hands of the City of Norfolk. Federal legislation laid out a way the City could acquire the properties for flood management purposes. 

If that happens, city spokesperson Chris Jones said it is too early to determine specific plans for the site. However, it is possible the property could be used as part of Norfolk's proposed downtown flood protection project. 

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