NSF releases Draft EIS on future of GBO

Public hearing scheduled for November 30

Suzanne Stewart
Staff Writer

Nearly a year after collecting data and public comments to create an Environmental Impact Study on the Green Bank Observatory, the National Science Foundation has released a draft of the document and scheduled a public hearing to discuss the future of the GBO.

The EIS is the result of the NSF’s decision to evaluate the potential impact if suggested changes were made in the operation of the observatory.

When it began, the NSF had five alternatives to the current funding it provides to GBO. Those alternatives are – A) collaboration with interested parties for continued science- and education-focused operations with reduced NSF funding; B) collaboration with interested parties for operation as a technology and education park; C) mothballing of facilities; D) demolition and site restoration; and E) no-action.

The NSF states its preferred alternative is A, but is required to evaluate all options before making a final decision.
The Draft EIS, which is 263 pages long, takes into consideration all aspects of what the observatory does for science, education and the community in which it dwells.

GBO site director Karen O’Neil said that it is clear when reading the draft that all opinions and suggestions were taken seriously by the NSF.

“Having just finished part one today, it’s very clear that they listened to the comments carefully considered the comments from last fall,” O’Neil said Thursday. “I would say any comments given this round would be treated the same way.”

Because the document is a draft, it is considered a living document, meaning it is open to change and that is why the NSF is holding a public comment period at the GBO science center Thursday, November 30, at 5:30 p.m. – to once again give interested parties a chance to be heard.

“It all depends on the feedback they [the NSF] get,” O’Neil said. “If you look at the difference between the proposed alternative that they just talked about a year ago and what’s in the draft, there’s significant differences between the two. I would say that certainly, if they don’t receive any feedback, it will read the same. This – the upcoming meeting and comment period – is a chance to not only find out more, it’s a great way to ask questions.”

Knowing that the document states the NSF is interested in alternative A which keeps the facility open with reduced NSF funding, O’Neil said it is promising to see that the NSF understands how important the GBO is in many aspects.

“This is the preferred alternative,” she said. “It doesn’t mean it’s the winner in the sense that partnerships still need to be found, but I think it’s a great statement of just the importance of Green Bank Observatory. If you read the EIS document, it really talks about the community interactions with Green Bank and the county, and the area and how important the observatory is to the county and the area. I think that’s just a great statement of the community and the fact that so many people turned out last round to talk about this.

“It would be great to see everybody that came out last time come again just to hear more,” she continued. “I kind of doubt most people want to read this entire document. It’s a good chance to come hear what it says and to get an overview of the document and kind of get a feel for what’s going on.”

O’Neil is unsure, but she believes the meeting will be handled in the same manner as last year where individuals may sign up for time to speak and the meeting will not be adjourned until all those who wish to speak are heard.

“I don’t know whether [the NSF] is going to stand up and talk at the beginning, but I certainly plan on encouraging them to give a summary of the whole document at the beginning so people can really get a feel for it,” she said. “We want this to happen the right way for the community.”

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