Federal stimulus funds boost NOAA projects

Federal stimulus funding is coming to the region to build a new facility and research vessel for the La Jolla-based National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration fisheries service.

Of NOAA’s $830 million spending plan, $180 million is headed this way:

-$102 million for the new Southwest Fisheries Science Center to be constructed on La Jolla Shores Drive, across the street from the old science center; and

-$78 million to construct a research vessel to replace the David Starr Jordan, which the science center had been using until last month when it sailed to Washington for limited use.

Due to the eroding bluffs, only two wings of the science center are currently occupied.

The new facility will be about the same size with the same number of researchers, but include much more advanced laboratories.

“Science has changed so much since the first facility was built in 1964,” operations director Meghan Donohue said. “Even though the square footage is not increasing greatly, this facility will much better suit our purposes.”

The new building will also be much more energy efficient and built to Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. While still in design phase, the building already won an architectural award. Construction is expected to begin in 2010 and finish in 2012.

The new 208-foot research vessel will provide workspace for many of the same things as the science labs, but on water. It’s slightly larger and able to hold more people than the David Starr Jordan. Also, as a very quiet ship, scientists will be able to conduct more advanced, efficient and reliable surveys of fish and marine life, which are used to make policy decisions how to best manage and protect them.

“It’s high-tech from top to bottom, " said Roger Hewitt, the institution’s assistant director. “It allows us to do our job better.”

The yet-to-be-named ship will come hit the water in 2013.

Both the ship and the science center were on track for completion before the stimulus package, but the specialized funding now ensures their timelines, Donohue said.