By Derek Spellman
NEOSHO, Mo. — The Neosho National Fish Hatchery will get an additional $1.04 million to make its proposed visitors center more energy-efficient. A tentative groundbreaking for the project is set for July 1.
The secretary for the U.S. Department of the Interior on Wednesday announced the allocation of federal stimulus money. About $100,000 of that will be used to install solar water-heating systems for the hatchery’s pallid sturgeon operation.
The rest will be used to help the hatchery’s visitors center qualify for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification.
David Hendrix, manager of the hatchery, said officials hope to make the 9,500-square-foot center a “wonderful showcase for green technology.”
The project had stalled after the federal agency three times solicited bids for a visitors center, and each time, the bids outstripped the original $2.8 million budget. In some cases, the bids exceeded the budget by more than $1 million.
Earlier this year, federal officials announced that they would allocate $1.7 million in additional funds for the project, bringing the total budget to about $4.5 million. Wednesday’s announcement consists of additional money.
Hendrix said the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has reviewed the latest round of bids and expects to award a contract “any day.” Construction is expected to take about a year.
Proposed features of the new center include a book and souvenir shop, an exhibit hall with displays on the history of the hatchery, a display of artifacts, a large aquarium, a training room with a wet lab, and video-viewing equipment. Office space is planned on the second floor. A new parking lot will be built in the northwest corner of the property, along with a wetlands area.
The project drew criticism late last year from U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., who labeled it “wasteful” because the Fish and Wildlife Service was pursuing a new visitors center at the same time it reported a shortfall that would force it to scale back programs and eliminate hundreds of positions.
Agency officials countered that the project was the result of a direct appropriation initiated years earlier and was not being done at the expense of other programs. They also defended the hatchery’s educational, tourism and environmental benefits.
The Neosho National Fish Hatchery draws about 45,000 visitors annually. Officials say that number is expected to go to more than 100,000 once the new visitors center is built.
By Derek Spellman
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