BEAUFORT — A bipartisan effort has put funding in a U.S. House of Representatives appropriations bill to save a National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration lab in Beaufort that the scientific agency had proposed to close.
The lab, which opened in 1899, employs 108 people and is the only government facility between New Jersey and Miami, Fla., studying Atlantic fish populations.
It also is a hub for several research operations in Carteret County, including labs run by three universities. Together, NOAA and the universities have 163,000 square feet of research buildings and 40 labs. Marine science directly employs more than 500 people locally and injects $58 million into the local economy, according to the county economic development council.
The President’s budget for fiscal year 2015 had proposed shuttering the lab, but Democrat David Price of Chapel Hill, who is a member of the House Appropriations Committee, and Republican Walter Jones, who represents the coastal district that includes Beaufort, announced Monday that the Fiscal Year 2015 Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies appropriations bill includes full funding for NOAA’s ocean science labs, including the one in Beaufort.
The bill will be considered by the full Appropriations Committee on Thursday.
“The Beaufort NOAA Lab is the focal point for federal, state and university-based marine and fisheries research in North Carolina,” Rep. Price said in a news release. “I’m very pleased we were able to work together secure this funding because the lab has a significant economic impact, and it is critical to maintaining the competitiveness of our state’s research enterprise.”
NOAA officials have said that the lab needed $55 million in maintenance, though the lab’s supporters have said that isn’t true. An engineering report showed the facility is structurally sound, they said.
NOAA has invested some $14 million in upgrades in recent years, including a new administrative building in 2006 and a new bridge to the island, a cost shared with Duke.