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Northwest Voices

Seattle Times letters to the editor

August 14, 2009 at 4:02 PM

NOAA fleet moves to Oregon

Newport not a safe harbor

While the choice of Newport, Ore., as the new homeport for NOAA’s Pacific fleet may be good by some economic calculation, it simply does not meet the mariner’s most fundamental requirement for a homeport: an all-weather, all-season safe haven for the ships that must approach and depart from the port. [“After decades in Seattle, NOAA fleet to ship out,” page one, Aug. 5.]

The choice of Newport will put NOAA lives and ships at risk every fall as they return from Alaska in November, when powerful Pacific storms can develop quickly and are routinely pounding the Oregon Coast with gale-force winds and heavy seas.

For NOAA ships returning from Alaska or Washington, Newport is an uncomfortable 250 miles south of the safety of deep-water ports along the Strait of Juan de Fuca, a full day’s sail in rolling-beam seas for ships such as the 241-foot survey ship Rainier, with her 20-foot draft. Instead of a large, welcoming, totally protected deep-water natural harbor like Port Angeles or Bellingham Bay, where there is room to maneuver and anchor in an emergency, when she arrives off Newport’s Yaquina River bar entrance, the ship is faced with a tight 100 meter-wide dredged channel entrance. She also faces unknown shifting shallows, massive Pacific breakers exploding on the 5-foot least-depth Yaquina Reef north and south of the jetties, and strong west wind and seas creating dangerous standing waves as they push against a powerful river swollen with rains and heavy with hidden logs and debris.

Safety of personnel and ships is the highest priority for selecting a homeport for NOAA’s Pacific fleet and by that criteria Newport should never have made the list. The choice of Newport for the NOAA Pacific fleet puts NOAA personnel and ships at serious risk and with excellent all-weather, all-season natural harbors available at Port Angeles or Bellingham, a full day’s sail closer to Alaska where most of the ships work and with the major plus of transiting in protected waters east of Vancouver Island, that risk is unnecessary and therefore unacceptable.

— Albert Foster, Port Townsend

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