NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. -- It's a slow process, but the plan to get an aircraft carrier homeported on the First Coast passed another hurdle Tuesday.
In October, Congress reinstated the $75 million necessary for dredging and wharf upgrades at the Naval Station, and President Obama signed it into law, but it was only the approval, not the actual dollars.
Tuesday, according to Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL), the Senate has committed $75.9 million for the work.
While that money is not connected to any carrier-related decision, the projects are an essential step, in that Mayport could not host a carrier, even on a temporary basis, if the work is not completed.
The USS John F. Kennedy is the carrier that was homeported here most recently.
However, it was a conventionally-powered carrier, and it was considerably older than any other carrier that would come to Mayport.
New carriers are nuclear-powered and much larger, meaning they need deeper water and more secure berthing; hence the dredging ($46.3 million) and wharf upgrades ($29.6 million).
Proponents of moving a carrier to Mayport, including Nelson, former Sen. Mel Martinez and representatives Ander Crenshaw and Corrine Brown, all from Florida, use national security as the rationale.
All carriers on the eastern seaboard are based in Norfolk, Virginia. Florida's leaders argue that amounts to a potential Pearl Harbor situation.
Detractors, specifically leaders in Virginia, say that is not a realistic threat, and that moving a carrier would be an unnecessary expense.
The money that was approved Tuesday is still necessary in their eyes, though, in the event that a carrier needs to temporarily port in Mayport for any reason, including weather or manmade emergencies.
The decision is now in the hands of the Department of Defense.
In the meantime, Florida's leaders do not want to waste any time.
"We've gotten the government's OK for the improvements, now we just need to bring home the funding," Nelson said following the Senate's vote Tuesday. "Once we have that then it's up to the Pentagon to do the right thing for national security by dispersing the Atlantic carrier fleet."
Tuesday's bill, similar to one already passed by the House, now moves to a panel of congressional negotiators to iron out the differences.
Final approval for the funding is expected by the end of the year.
First Coast News