It’s been a long road — and there’s a long way to go — but the wheels are still turning and that’s good news indeed.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration has started the first phase of a project to renovate its mooring facility on Stedman Street, a project that will allow the NOAA research vessel Fairweather to be physically homeported in Ketchikan.

That was the original intent of federal legislation secured in 2001 by the late U.S. Sen. Ted Stevens. We won’t go into the long history here, other than to acknowledge the vast amount of work done to find a way to accomplish a NOAA homeport facility in Ketchikan after the NOAA dock was condemned as unsafe in 2008.

That effort continues to involve many people at the local, state and federal levels. A partial list of those involved includes Ketchikan Gateway Borough Mayor Rodney Dial and other borough officials; state Sen. Bert Stedman and Rep. Dan Ortiz; Sen. Dan Sullivan and other members of Alaska’s congressional delegation; and officials with NOAA, U.S. Department of Commerce and U.S. Coast Guard.

It’s taken much effort and a long time to reach the point where NOAA is beginning an environmental assessment and anticipates issuing a request-for-proposals to demolish the existing dock, according to information presented Saturday during a round-table event attended by local, state and federal officials at the Ted Ferry Civic Center.

More work is required — funding for a subsequent replacement dock is not yet in hand. Stedman said in a prepared statement Sunday that the “next critical step is securing funding for the new dock and prioritizing the project in the next NOAA agency budget bill,” legislation expected to be approved by Congress by Oct. 1.

Even before a new dock project is complete, Ketchikan can anticipate seeing more of the Fairweather in the near future. NOAA and the Coast Guard have signed an expanded memorandum of understanding that will allow the Fairweather to moor at Coast Guard Base Ketchikan for up to 100 days per year. A Department of Commerce official said Saturday that the Fairweather will be in Ketchikan later this year.

The First City looks forward to being a good host to the Fairweather — and other vessels from NOAA and other agencies that can make use of the facility — for many years to come.