NEWPORT, R.I. — After months of planning, the US Navy has awarded a nearly $150 million contract to a New York-based company to move a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration marine operations center from Virginia to Naval Station Newport.
The Navy announced it awarded a $147 million contract on Tuesday to Skanska USA to design and build NOAA’s facility. Design plans are not yet finalized, but NOAA spokesperson Keeley Belva said the facility would be required to include a pier that will accommodate four large vessels, a floating dock for smaller vessels, space for vessel repairs, and a building that could be used for shoreside support and as a warehouse.
Construction is expected to be complete “by 2027,” said Belva. Skanska USA’s contract was awarded following a request for proposals that was open from January to August 2023.
The marine operations center coordinates NOAA’s ships in the Atlantic Ocean and the Great Lakes. It also serves as the home of some of NOAA’s flagship research vessels.
The land-based Atlantic marine operations center is expected to be staffed by people from NOAA and civilians who provide logistical, engineering, electronics, maintenance, and administrative support to all the ships in NOAA’s Atlantic Fleet.
The facility’s move from Norfolk, Va., is expected to create 200 jobs in Rhode Island, according to US Senator Jack Reed.
Reed, who has advocated for NOAA to have a permanent homeport and marine operations center in Rhode Island for more than a decade, describes NOAA as “America’s environmental intelligence agency.” The agency, which falls under the US Commerce Department, handles everything from weather forecasting to regulating wind power.
The ships in NOAA’s Atlantic fleet also collect data that are essential to protect mammals, coral reefs, and historic shipwrecks. It can also track the impact of climate change and produce nautical charts that can help keep mariners safe.
The new facility “marks another win for the Ocean State, for NOAA, and for local workers as we develop our Blue Economy,” said Reed.
The new NOAA facility will be more than 22,000 square feet.
NOAA Corps Rear Admiral Nancy Hann said by co-locating with Naval Station Newport, “we are able to make our ship operations more efficient and increase long-term cost savings through sharing common capabilities.”
The construction of the facility is funded in part by the Inflation Reduction Act, a $3.3 billion investment touted by the Biden administration that the White House claims combats the climate crisis by building a clean energy economy and helping communities prepare and build resilience to weather and climate events. The act, said US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo in a statement, also strengthens NOAA’s fleet of research airplanes and ships to improve weather and climate data and services.
“As we work to combat the climate crisis, building climate resilient facilities, like this one in Rhode Island, is critical to ensuring our infrastructure stands the test of time,” said Raimondo, who previously served as Rhode Island’s governor until she was appointed to Biden’s cabinet in 2021.