The National Science Foundation (NSF) has chosen the Battelle Memorial Institute to run its troubled National Ecological Observatories Network (NEON).
NEON, a $432 million project, is currently under construction in 20 ecologically distinct zones across the United States, from Alaska to Puerto Rico. Last August NSF revealed that the project was facing an $80 million budget overrun and more than a year delay, and in December 2015 it pulled the plug on the current contractor, NEON Inc., a nonprofit organization based in Boulder, Colorado, that was created expressly to build and operate NEON.
Battelle, a nonprofit research and development organization based in Columbus, manages six national laboratories for the Department of Energy (some jointly with other entities), including Brookhaven, Oak Ridge, and Pacific Northwest. An NSF spokesperson said that Battelle was chosen over a handful of other bidders because of its experience with other scientific facilities and because of its willingness to work with the research community to achieve the project’s goal of becoming a continental scale observatory to monitor changes in climate, biodiversity, and land use.
The agreement was signed on 11 March, but details won’t be known for 90 days. Among the questions hanging fire are whether Battelle will need additional money and time to complete the project and how many people currently in senior management positions will be retained.