MUSKEGON (AP) – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration operates its fleet of 20 Great Lakes vessels out of Muskegon without much fanfare.

But NOAA’s maritime operation is about to take on a higher profile with an expansion of the Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory on the Muskegon Channel.

The vessel maintenance and operation building and its equipment are going through a nearly $1 million upgrade and will become NOAA’s national showcase for its Green Ship initiative. The upgrade is expected to be done by early fall.

Once completed, the marine operations building will have new offices and areas for training along with space for engineering and maintenance operations. The building will house the Green Ship initiative that was started in Muskegon and expanded with NOAA and other federal government marine operations.

The Green Ship program converts all shipboard systems to biofuels and bio-lubricants.

“With this investment and expansion, we will have a facility that will match the engineering requirements of our work load here in Muskegon,” NOAA Marine Superintendent Dennis Donahue said. “There needs to be a place and a facility for people to go to concerning our Green Ship program. We will have space for research and development, testing and conferences.”

The marine facility will be constructed in a way that will match the historic look of the main Great Lakes Environmental Research Laboratory building, a former U.S. Coast Guard station.

The facility will grow to about 3,000 square feet. That does not include an adjacent, 1,400-square-foot storage facility.

It will have several “green” elements including restoration of the beach environment, three different types of wind turbines, solar cells and a rain run-off filtration system. The alternative energy systems will produce about a third of the facility’s electrical needs, Donahue said.

Maritime officials and ship crews from other federal agencies also will be using the facility.

Part of the marine facility expansion is the placement of bio-fuel storage tanks on site with a design that protects against spills. NOAA will have the ability to store up to 9,000 gallons of fuel.

“Our program is all about minimizing vessel impact on the environment,” Donahue said.

NOAA’s Great Lakes fleet is led by the 80-foot research vessel the Laurentian, a former University of Michigan research ship. The Muskegon-based vessel will be spending a good deal of the upcoming boating season in Lake Huron as NOAA replicates its Lake Michigan monitoring and research efforts to the east.

Muskegon is also home to a 55-foot NOAA work boat.

Besides ship operations, the NOAA facility in Muskegon is a biological research station for Lake Michigan. The agency with regional research headquarters in Ann Arbor has had a Lake Michigan monitoring program ongoing for the past two decades.

NOAA has 20 employees year-round in Muskegon between environmental research and ship operations.

© Copyright 2011 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


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