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Florida Happy, Virginia Unhappy with Mayport Carrier Decision

4:29 PM, Feb 1, 2010   |    comments
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NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. -- While it wasn't officially presented until today, a significant military report leaked out late Friday, and elected officials in Virginia and Florida have sounded off on one of the proposals in the report.

It looks more and more likely that Mayport will once again be the homeport for an aircraft carrier.

The Department of Defense has released is 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR), a legislatively mandated review of Department of Defense (DoD) strategy and priorities.

Page 91 of the report indicates clearly, "To mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident, or natural disaster, the U.S. Navy will homeport an East Coast carrier in Mayport, Florida."

Since the decommissioning of the USS John F. Kennedy in 2007, all five of the nation's East Coast carriers have been homeported in the same place: Norfolk, Virginia.

Citing national security risks, Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL) and Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-FL) have led the charge through Congress to get a carrier moved from Norfolk to Mayport.

MORE: NELSON AND CRENSHAW IN JACKSONVILLE TO TALK ABOUT DECISION

The argument made by Crenshaw and Nelson, and echoed by Rep. Corrine Brown (D-FL) and senators Mel Martinez and George LeMieux (both republicans; LeMieux is completing Martinez's term) is that having all carriers in one place poses a risk along the lines of Pearl Harbor.

In attacking Pearl Harbor in 1941, Japanese aircraft were able to concentrate fire on one location, effectively crippling the Pacific Fleet.

Florida's delegation said the same thing could happen in Norfolk, which is several miles inland and accessible via only one waterway.

A man-made or natural disaster could again cripple the military's response capabilities.

Virginia's delegation, led by senators Jim Webb and John Warner, both democrats, argues that that type of event cannot happen.

Interested parties from both Florida and Virginia have spoken out about the report.

Sen Bill Nelson, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"This is something Ander and Corrine and I have been fighting for for almost ten years.  This will cement Jacksonville's and Mayport's place in our nation's defense.

"The reason for moving one of the nuclear carriers from Norfolk ( Va. ) to Mayport is so they're not all lined up in one place like sitting ducks.  Beyond that, this is huge for the North Florida economy."

Rep. Ander Crenshaw, member of the House Appropriations Committee, Military Construction and Veterans Affairs subcommittee:
 "While I believe the Navy was right on the money when they made the decision to homeport a nuclear aircraft carrier at Mayport last January, I am glad to see that national security, not politics, stands victorious in the latest Pentagon's review.  I am proud to have fought alongside members of the Northeast Florida Congressional Delegation to make Mayport's case, holding steady to the argument that national security should rule any decision.  Virginia lawmakers can no longer claim that this decision was not reviewed and analyzed at every level of our defense establishment.

"Military leaders at the highest levels have long understood the nation needs two East Coast homeports.  Since the decommissioning of the USS John F. Kennedy, the Norfolk area has been the only East Coast port where nuclear aircraft carriers are repaired, built, and housed.  If tragedy, manmade or natural, intentional or accidental, rendered it out of reach, the Navy would be forced to journey around the top of South America to reach another aircraft carrier maintenance facility in San Diego, California.

"Our nuclear aircraft carriers are key to the execution of national security strategy, and as access to overseas landbases continues to decrease, the Navy's aircraft carriers will be more and more important.  Mayport is positioned well to fulfill that mission, now and in generations to come."

Rep. Corrine Brown, member of the House Veterans Affairs Committee:
"The Navy's decision to choose home porting a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier at Mayport Naval Station is simply great news for the city of Jacksonville and for the residents of the North East Florida community!  Certainly, our community is ready and willing to support the men and women who are putting their lives on the line to protect the nation.
 
"This will serve not only as a tremendous boost for Mayport and the Navy presence in our state, but also as an economic stimulus for the local economy.  With unemployment soaring in the state of Florida, the jobs created to upgrade the port in preparation for the carrier's arrival are desperately needed and could not have come at a more perfect time.
 
"According to the Navy, the decision to keep a nuclear carrier at Mayport was one of 13 options they were considering as a way to maintain a dispersed carrier fleet.  Now that the decision is final, we will see an additional 3,190 military personnel brought to our area and a spike in development.  The Navy is estimating that they expect the work should be completed more or less within the next five years.

"Again - I am not only pleased that a nuclear carrier will be based right here on the First Coast, but strongly believe it is also a decision that will make our country safer.  Indeed, this will tremendously augment our nation's national security, and Jacksonville is a perfect place to assist the Navy in this endeavor."

Sen. George LeMieux, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"This is an historic day for Mayport. A nuclear carrier homeported here is the right decision for the right reasons. In addition to strengthening the fabric of our national security, this will mean thousands of jobs and families for this region.

"I commend the Defense Department for making the right decision for what is clearly in the best interest of our national security. I have discussed this with members of the Navy as well as local officials and all are elated.

"Congressman Ander Crenshaw, Senator Bill Nelson, and other members of Florida's congressional delegation deserve a great amount of credit for urging the DoD to  come to this decision. The next step is to look at the timeline for constructing what will be necessary for Mayport to serve in its new role. What President Obama includes in his fiscal year 2011 budget due out next week will give us a clearer picture of that schedule."

Jacksonville Mayor John Peyton:
"Today, the City of Jacksonville received word that the U.S. Department of Defense's Quadrennial Defense Review has confirmed the long-standing position of the U.S. Navy to homeport a nuclear aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport.

"This decision is in line with the many Navy and Defense Department civilian and military leaders who have stated that home porting a carrier in Mayport is in the best interest of national security and is a military priority.

"While home porting the carrier here will enhance national security through strategic dispersal of the East Coast carrier fleet, the economic boost this vessel brings to our city is a real positive during these tough economic times. The estimated annual impact of nearly $671 million in revenue and 7,400 new jobs associated with this relocation are key as Jacksonville plots its course for post-recession recovery.

"Our congressional delegation should be commended for their dedication and leadership on this issue. Senators Bill Nelson and George LeMieux, and Representatives Corrine Brown, Ander Crenshaw and Cliff Sterns each played an integral role in helping to bring a carrier back to Mayport and strengthening Jacksonville's role as an ever-increasing fleet concentration area.

"This is a proud moment for our city and we are honored to receive the distinction of being one of only two Navy carrier ports on the East Coast. With this honor comes the responsibility of delivering on the promise to make Jacksonville the most military-friendly city in nation.

"I assure you, we stand poised and ready to assist in welcoming one of the Navy's most powerful warships, its active duty members and their families to the area. The military is an important part of our community and I am proud to be the mayor of a city that so many patriots call home."

Florida Gov. Charlie Crist:
"I am pleased that the U.S. Navy will homeport an East Coast carrier in Mayport.  This decision will bring thousands of new jobs to Jacksonville and the surrounding area.  We stand with the Jacksonville community, ready to welcome the sailors and families who will be moving there during the next few years.  I commend Florida's Congressional delegation for working to make this good news a reality for Northeast Florida, our state and our nation.

"Florida is proud to welcome one of the carriers that are so important to our nation's security.  As part of Florida's continued commitment to the brave men and women of our Armed Forces, I announced last week my budget recommendation for increased infrastructure funding for communities near military bases.  In this way, we can ensure critical military missions like the one announced today continue operating from the Sunshine State."

Sen. Jim Webb, member of the Senate Armed Services Committee:
"As someone who has spent time in the military and served as Secretary of the Navy, I both understand our national security priorities and our responsibility to be careful stewards of the taxpayers' dollars–especially at a time of great budget constraints. We are talking about a billion dollars to build a redundant facility, when we can and should be investing that money into other, higher-priority defense programs. I don't see the justification; it has yet to be demonstrated.

"I would be curious to see where the Navy believes that it can take a billion dollars away from shipbuilding, weapons procurement, ship maintenance and repair, and building a fleet in order to construct an alternate port which, on all accounts, doesn't seem to be needed.

"This is not a done deal.

"The QDR–while a valuable internal, planning document–does not have the force of law. The President's budget request will have to be authorized and appropriated by the Congress; and my colleagues and I in the Virginia delegation have been working assiduously all year to make sure that these key strategic questions are addressed and also that these funding issues are balanced out." 

Sen. Mark Warner:
"In a time of concern about federal spending and budget deficits, I will be asking tough questions about this Pentagon plan to divert $700 million to $1 billion -- or more - to reassign an aircraft carrier from the Norfolk Naval Station.

"The Commonwealth of Virginia has long supported the world's largest naval base at Norfolk.  In fact, it was Virginia shipbuilders who constructed the Navy's first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier nearly 50 years ago and who continue to build, refuel and maintain the carriers today.

"We will continue to work in partnership with Sen. Jim Webb, our colleagues in the House of Representatives, and our state and local partners to maintain Virginia's historic and long-standing commitment to support our military installations and Virginia's military men and women and their families."

While Webb is correct that the QDR is not law, it does mean the decision to move a carrier has the endorsement of the Department of Defense.

Money has been approved by Congress already for two necessary improvements at Mayport: dredging and wharf upgrades.

Dredging will be necessary because any carrier coming to Mayport will be considerably larger than the Kennedy, which was commissioned in the 1960s.

Wharf upgrades will be necessary because any new carrier will also be nuclear-powered, which the Kennedy was not.

The money for those projects was approved, but is not directly related to homeporting issues. Even a visiting carrier will need the upgrades, and that can happen any time weather or events in the south Atlantic dictate.

First Coast News

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