NSF to hold public comment meetings concerning GBO

A rare photo of the tour bus and tourists from the top of the GBT. There's  a spot reserved for you on one of the many Science Center tours at the Green Bank Observatory. Beginning Thursday, November 3, the Science Center will be open from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Monday, and tours are offered three times each day, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you've ever been curious about the universe we live in, or simply want to understand what the Observatory is all about, this is the place for you.
A rare photo of the tour bus and tourists from the top of the GBT. There’s
a spot reserved for you on one of the many Science Center tours at the Green
Bank Observatory. Beginning Thursday, November 3, the Science Center will be open from
10 a.m. to 6 p.m., Thursday through Monday, and tours are offered three times each
day, at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 3 p.m. If you’ve ever been curious about the universe
we live in, or simply want to understand what the Observatory is all about,
this is the place for you.

Almost one month to the day after the Green Bank Observatory celebrated its 60th anniversary and name change, the National Science Foundation will hold two public scoping meetings at the Green Bank Observatory Science Center to discuss the future of the facility.

On November 9, NSF officials will be at the observatory to collect information and comments from the public for a planned Environmental Impact Statement and proposed changes to the observatory’s operations.

These meetings are to gauge the impact to the community with regard to business, people, the economy and education, as well as social considerations.  Even though it is called an environmental impact meeting, it is not meant to address the physical environment.  That issue will be handled separately. 

In 2012, an NSF portfolio review resulted in a recommendation to divest the Green Bank Telescope (GBT). The NSF has remained the owner of the land on which the observatory is located, but cut funding to 60 percent.

The public meetings, one from 3 to 5 p.m., the second at 6 to 8 p.m., will be the first opportunity the public will have to address the issue with the NSF and to express opinions as to the importance of the observatory.

GBO director Karen O’Neil said she is uncertain of the exact structure of the meeting, but she knows it is the best chance for individuals in the community to have their voices heard.

“They are not only allowed to speak, those are the voices that the National Science Foundation wants to hear,” she said. “They very much would like to hear community comments and discuss what the facility means to them and what’s important to them about the facility. This will help them develop their scope of what needs to be looked at as they make their decision.”

O’Neil suggests those who want to present a verbal comment should also bring a letter or a copy of the comment to give to NSF officials to ensure it is included in the study.

Again, while there is no agenda for the meetings, O’Neil believes the NSF will give a presentation to explain the process of the data collection for the Environmental Impact Statement prior to receiving public comment.

“I believe that the National Science Foundation will be starting off each meeting with a kind of overview of what’s going on – why the meetings are happening,” she said. “Then they will introduce a private organization that’s been hired to actually conduct this review, so that keeps things unbiased. Then that organization will talk about the type of information they’re looking for, how they’re collecting it and, hopefully, a little bit about the timeline for the process.”

At this time, the NSF has five preliminary proposed alternatives for the GBT which are:

• Continued NSF investment for science-focused operations, no-action alternative.

• Collaboration with interested parties for science and education-focused operations with reduced NSF-funded scope.

• Collaboration with interested parties for operation as a technology and education park.

• Mothballing of facilities – suspension of operations in a manner such that operations could resume efficiently at some future date.

• Deconstruction and site restoration.

The second option, O’Neil said, is where the GBO is right now – looking for other funding sources and interested parties with which to collaborate.

“By going down the collaboration path, of course, [the NSF] could choose to change the level of funding, the level of partnership that the NSF itself is giving,” she said. “So, by going down that path, they could choose to decrease, or, I guess in theory, increase the amount of funding they give us.”

The third option is similar to the recommendation from the 2012 portfolio review, where the NSF would divest funding and the facility would become a technology and education park.

“That would mean no longer funding the operation of the GBT, but allowing the education facilities to stay open, as well as potentially things like the machine shop,” O’Neil explained. “It’s a funny alternative because if you know the site well, the reason our education works so great is because we have these operating telescopes and all the scientists and engineers there.

“It’s certainly not an option any of us would like to see, and I don’t think it would bode well for the educational programs, but I think the NSF is right in including that since that was the recommendation they received,” she continued.

The last option – to deconstruct the site – would not only see the site closed, but it would also require demolition of the GBT and possibly some of the other telescopes to be moved to other facilities.

“Certainly for the GBT it would have to include demolishing the telescope,” O’Neil said. “There’s no ready path forward for picking up a telescope of that size and moving it. The other telescopes – each one would have to be looked at individually.”

As news about the upcoming meetings got out, many observatory supporters leapt into action to inform the public and to speak out against closure of the site.

Deana White, of Barboursville, and her daughter, Ellie, started the GO Green Bank Observatory Facebook page which contains a tremendous amount of information pertaining to the importance of the observatory. Sample letters of support may be found there, as well.

Public comments can be sent to the National Science Foundation in the following ways:

By attending the public meetings at the Green Bank Observatory Wednesday, November 9, from 3 to 5 p.m. or 6 to 8 p.m.

By email: envcomp-AST-greenbank@nsf.gov with cc to eis@gbobservatory.org. The subject line should read “Green Bank Observatory.”

By mail to:
Elizabeth Pentecost
RE: Green Bank Observatory
National Science Foundation a
4201 Wilson Blvd.
Suite 1045
Arlington, VA 22230.

With a copy to:
Director
Green Bank Observatory
PO Box 2
Green Bank, WV 24944

Suzanne Stewart may be contacted at sastewart@pocahontastimes.com

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