By Richard Gaines
Gloucester is the right and most economical place for NOAA's Northeast Regional Office, says U.S. Sen. Scott Brown.
"NOAA's lack of engagement with our fishing industry will not be solved by moving dedicated front line staff off the docks and closer to Washington," Brown said in a letter sent Friday to Sens. Barbara Mikulski and Kay Bailey Hutchinson.
Mikulski, a Maryland Democrat, chairs the Senate Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies.
She authored an amendment to the pending budget for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that would move the Gloucester office of the National Marine Fisheries Service to Silver Spring, Md. where NMFS is headquartered. Hutchinson of Texas is the ranking Republican on the subcommittee
Brown was writing with reference to a NOAA report, required by the Senate subcommittee, that explores the proposed move. The report was released last Thursday, but concluded the agency's Northeast Regional Office, which governs federal waters from Maine to North Carolina, should remain in Gloucester for operational and fiscal reasons. About 200 NOAA employees work in the agency's current office building, built in Gloucester's Blackburn Industrial Park. "In dollars and cents, NOAA's chief financial officer, Scott Quehl, provides compelling evidence that tens of millions of scarce taxpayer dollars would be wasted on a counterproductive move to the Washington, D.C. Area," Brown wrote. "The government has a longterm commitment to its landlord in Gloucester, running through 2023. The lease has no buyout clause -- raising the specter of the government paying for another 11 years for the Gloucester office while simultaneously paying rent for a new office."
He added that NOAA estimates the 30 year cost of operating in the D.C. area instead of Gloucester would rise from $36 million to $94 million.
A spokeswoman in Mikulski office said, "We have received the report and are in the process of reviewing it."
Mayor Carolyn Kirk, Rep. John Tierney, whose district includes Cape Ann, and Sen. John Kerry have all condemned the idea of NOAA's leaving Gloucester, where it has had a regional office since late 1800s. With the July appointment of former New Bedford Mayor John Bullard to head the regional office, the agency finally has new leadership. Patricia Kurkul retired in December.
The Gloucester regional office has become the epicenter of anger and resentment for bureaucratic fumbling and years of mistreatment by law enforcement agents and litigators, which was documented in a series of reports by the Commerce Department inspector general and subsequent case studies by a special judicial master. These led to a cabinet-level apology and reparations of more than $600,000 to 11 victims of law enforcement excesses, though none of the offenders have been punished or fired.
A second report by the special master, retired federal magistrate Charles B. Swartwood III, has been completed and forwarded to the Commerce Department, but the agency has not made it public. The second Swartwood report is believed to contain damning studies of additional law enforcement mistreatment of fishermen. The report contains more than 60 case studies and was delivered no later than March.
"The entire fishing industry is under incredible pressure due to NOAA's failure to manage the fisheries," Brown wrote. "Crippling regulations like catch shares and overzealous enforcement have made life hard for fishermen across the Northeast region and beyond."
Brown, Kerry, Tierney along with Reps. Barney Frank, whose district includes New Bedford, and William Keating, whose district includes the ports of Massachusetts Bay and Cape Cod, wrote to President Obama last week complaining that NOAA has not responded to a formal filing of a claim that the fishery has become a disaster under terms in the Magnuson-Stevens Act and that emergency assistance is due to the industry.
Gov. Deval Patrick initially filed for the disaster declaration last November. The governors of Maine and New Hampshire also filed similar claims at least six months ago, but NOAA has failed to respond to any of the claim.