Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Oregon Ports Stimulate Coastal, State Economy

By Terry Dillman

A network of 15 ports, large and small, along Oregon’s 362-mile coastline feature busy harbors. Some are alive with heavy industrial commerce, some an eclectic mix of commercial and recreational activity, serving as tourist destinations, and most provide refuge when the ocean turns temperamental.

Commercial fisheries and working waterfronts are essential sources of jobs and economic growth, according to the Oregon Coastal Zone Management Association (OCZMA), which conducts studies of the Oregon coast economy and conveys information to an extensive network of government officials and others, aiming to improve the region’s standard of living.

Fisheries also provide part of the overall ambience folks want to experience when visiting the Oregon coast – or opting to live there. They attract artists, writers and others, including a growing number of retirees, who in turn make their own contributions to an ever-changing diverse economy and culture.

Travelers spend time watching and photographing the fishing fleets, and out-of-towners often show up at the coast seeking fresh, locally caught seafood.

Oregon coast ports feature a number of working waterfronts: Astoria/Warrenton, Garibaldi, Depoe Bay, Newport, Winchester Bay, Coos Bay/Charleston, Port Orford, Gold Beach and Brookings. In some towns, commercial fisheries provide 25 percent or more of total annual earned income. The seafood industry also supports associated fish processing plants, mechanics, welders, refrigeration specialists, machine shops, marine electronics sales and service firms, professional services (attorneys and accountants) and marine suppliers – mostly clustered adjacent to the waterfronts.

All Oregon ports – from larger (Coos Bay, Newport, Astoria) harbors that host international shipping and regional-scale fishing fleets to smaller, shallow-draft sites with limited capabilities (Depoe Bay, Alsea) – are integral to their communities’ lifestyles and economies.
Newport is a prime example, especially given what has transpired there during the past three years and what lies immediately ahead. 

Steeped in Marine Research
Newport’s harbor serves as a major center of oceanographic research with the Hatfield Marine Science Center (HMSC) and related facilities operated by Oregon State University (OSU), along with federal agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). HMSC is one of the top three marine science research facilities in the nation, along with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution in Massachusetts and Scripps Institute of Oceanography in California.

Still, few observers gave the Port of Newport – located midway on Oregon’s 362-mile coastline – any odds of earning the nod to provide a new home for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific research fleet when the agency started its demanding selection process in 2007. When NOAA shocked nearly everyone and selected Newport in 2009, most observers said they would never finish such an extensive project on such a tight schedule.

Not only did “the little port that could” finish the project, the folks that port officials chose to do the job completed it five days ahead of schedule.

When the 22-month effort reached what Port General Manager Don Mann called “the transition from construction to commissioning and operation,” and NOAA signed the initial 20-year lease and took over the facility in July 2011, it marked a major turning point for a port that celebrated its centennial in 2010. Lincoln County Commissioner and long-time commercial fisherman Terry Thompson said he looked forward to “a new cooperation” between the fishing industry and the research NOAA’s fleet performs, noting that it was something he had always hoped to see within his lifetime.

With jobs, growth, and economic development at stake, an extended backyard brawl ensued between Oregon and Washington leaders over the pending move. According to an economic impact analysis released by the Economic Development Alliance (EDA) of Lincoln County, the move could mean as much as a $32 million influx – the equivalent of 800 full-time family wage jobs in Lincoln County – after 10 years. But while local, state, and federal officials focused on the much-anticipated economic boost, the heart of this project was and is marine science, research, and education, with Newport – in particular the South Beach peninsula, where Oregon State University’s Hatfield Marine Science Center and Oregon Coast Aquarium are already located – as a pivot point.

Port officials say the NOAA fleet will not only enhance research efforts, but will help attract additional marine science ventures, putting Newport’s marine science profile on a rising tide. Even without factoring in the value of attracting additional marine science research, the impact still pencils out to about $20 million annually in the local and regional economy, the EDA study noted.

Landing the homeport facility sets the stage for an enhanced focus on the long-time marine science and research efforts on Yaquina Bay’s South Beach peninsula. Local, state and federal officials believe what’s officially known as the NOAA Marine Operations Center – Pacific (MOC-P) could help take South Beach to the next level, transforming it into an international hub for research and development on ocean health – a key component in climate change.

At least four vessels from NOAA’s Pacific research fleet will dock here, and berths are available for two additional visiting ships.

The fleet provides floating, mobile platforms for marine science research, collecting data essential to protecting marine mammals, coral reefs and historic shipwrecks, managing commercial marine fish stocks, understanding climate processes, and nautical charting. They also deploy and maintain buoys that gather oceanographic weather information and other data.

“NOAA’s mission touches the lives of every American,” says NOAA Administrator Jane Lubchenco, who brought an extensive background as a marine ecologist and environmental scientist, and expertise in oceans and climate change to the agency’s leadership position.

That mission is to understand and predict changes in climate, weather, oceans and coasts, share that knowledge and information with others, and conserve and manage coastal and marine ecosystems and resources.
NOAA MOC-P plays a central role.

It serves as homeport for NOAA’s Pacific research and survey ships; provides administrative, engineering, maintenance and logistical support to the nine-vessel Pacific fleet; and houses the MOC directorate, which oversees both the Pacific and Atlantic marine centers, and all NOAA ship operations.

Already Here
Their activities also support existing NOAA facilities at HMSC.

The Newport Research Station is the only ocean port research facility for NOAA’s Seattle-based Northwest Fisheries Science Center. Located in the heart of Oregon’s groundfish, salmon and other fisheries, the vessels offer support for the 70 scientists and staff who conduct marine science research throughout the Pacific coast region.

Capt. Rick Brown, a retired NOAA Corps officer and current program manager at NWFSC at HMSC, says their work depends on those NOAA ships “to support a variety of fisheries and ecosystem-based cruises.”

During the field season (spring, summer, autumn – roughly April through October or November), the vessels are almost always out at sea, conducting essential ocean research, fisheries surveys and seafloor mapping. When home, they are highly visible from many viewpoints, standing out at the facility’s central location in Yaquina Bay that allows them quick, easy access to the ocean, from where they can fan out in any direction for exploration purposes.

Former Gov. Ted Kulongoski called the homeport’s construction in Newport “a landmark event for this state,” noting that the ensuing research and development that could evolve from it “will not only put Newport on the map, it will put Oregon on the map.”

During the competitive lease process, Port of Newport officials touted the city as having “the best working waterfront on the West Coast,” with its commercial fishing fleet, US Coast Guard Station Yaquina Bay, and ocean research activities. The NOAA fleet, they said, would not only enhance such research efforts, but would help attract additional marine science ventures, putting Newport’s already considerable marine science profile on a rising tide.

Factoring in the port’s current project to renovate its international terminal, which has already drawn intense interest from timber exporting ventures and cruise lines, Newport is seemingly standing at the cusp of economic prosperity forged from a diverse mix of traditional and emerging industries. 

A Socioeconomic Network
Collectively, Oregon’s ports forge “an important regional network of maritime infrastructure,” said Onno Husing, former executive director of OCZMA.

Heading north to south, Oregon’s coastal ports and harbors are Port of Astoria (, Port of Garibaldi (, Port of Nehalem (no website), Port of Tillamook Bay (, City of Depoe Bay (, Port of Newport (, Port of Toledo (, Port of Alsea (, Port of Siuslaw (, Port of Umpqua (, Oregon International Port of Coos Bay (, Port of Bandon (, Port of Coquille River (no website), Port of Port Orford ( and Port of Brookings Harbor ( 

Terry Dillman can be reached at

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