NEWPORT, Ore. - One of the leading marine research facilities on the West Coast is looking to expand to accommodate growth among its partner agencies and foster more research, education and outreach related to the Pacific Ocean.

Oregon State University's Hatfield Marine Science Center has long-term hopes to add as many as four buildings to its 49-acre campus, pending funding from different sources. Ironically, the signature research strength of the center - its multiple state and federal agencies - makes it more difficult to garner resources for capital construction projects, according to George Boehlert, director of the center.

"The building processes for various state and federal agencies are completely different," Boehlert said, "and the co-mingling of funds from different agencies is almost taboo. That doesn't mean there isn't cooperation - we have an unusually high level of collaboration when it comes to partnering for research, sharing space, and purchasing a needed piece of equipment.

"But it's a different matter when it comes to funding a $10 million or $20 million building," he added.

Boehlert also is working with the City of Newport and the Yaquina Bay Economic Foundation on different strategies to enhance the region's economy. One of their goals is to make Newport a major infrastructure provider for a planned ocean observing network that would be located on the central Oregon coast and coordinated by researchers in OSU's College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences.

The Hatfield center and the Port of Newport could provide the infrastructure for the National Science Foundation-funded initiative, which could bring as much as $50 million to OSU over the next dozen years.

"Yaquina Bay is a natural location for such an observatory," Boehlert said. "There is easy access to the ocean, we have a lot of existing infrastructure at the center, and this part of the ocean is one of the most well-studied and most important marine areas because of its hypoxia zones, harmful algal blooms and other occurrences.

"Both Hatfield and the Port of Newport could play critical roles in providing the infrastructure support for the observatory, from housing the ships to providing warehouses for buoys and moorings, to coordinating computer support for the data," he added.

Opened in 1965, OSU's Hatfield Marine Science Center has an annual budget of about $37 million and houses about 300 employees, including about 120 from OSU and the rest from partnering agencies such as the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife and others.

OSU and all of the agencies are expanding their efforts at the Newport center, where space for offices and laboratories is at a premium. Late last year, the center completed its long-range plan that will guide its tenants through the next 15 years. That master plan is a pathway for growth, Boehlert said, but progressing down the path may take some time because of the fiscal climate created by the national economic downturn.

Of the four additional buildings planned, the closest to fruition may be an educational facility to house the innovative aquarium science program offered by Oregon Coast Community College, in collaboration with OSU. Lincoln County voters passed a bond measure in 2004 to provide partial funds for the building, but project leaders have yet to get full matching funds from the state so that construction may begin.

The fast-growing Marine Mammal Institute also has long-terms hopes of a new building. The institute was created in late 2006 as an expansion of a program founded by scientist Bruce Mate, who is perhaps best known for his pioneering use of satellites to track whales and other marine mammals. The program has added a pair of nationally recognized scientists - whale geneticist Scott Baker and pinniped expert Markus Horning - and has plans to bring several more researchers and technicians on board during the next couple of years.

The Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife has plans to triple its "footprint" at the OSU center in Newport, but its vision for a new building may take some time to complete. Boehlert said ODFW, which is expanding its staff of salmon biologists and bivalve (clams, mussels and oysters) experts, may lease space from OCCC if its building project gets the rest of its funding.

A fourth building would be a creative - and comparatively inexpensive - way to carve more space in the center of the facility. Boehlert said the center is looking to move its facility maintenance program to the edge of the campus, which would free up space. The maintenance group is located in a former wet laboratory, which could again be used for research, he pointed out.

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George Boehlert,