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Update: Mayport Carrier Battle with Virginia Continues

4:42 PM, May 6, 2011   |    comments
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NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. -- Assuming the decision won't actually be final until an aircraft carrier is physically docked at Mayport, lawmakers in Virginia are continuing their battle to hold onto one of the five that call Norfolk home.

Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) highlighted an article in the Virginian-Pilot that noted Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.), of the Readiness Subcommittee of the House Armed Services Committee, stripped $30 million designated for Mayport upgrades from the readiness budget.

If that spending bill makes it through Forbes' subcommittee, it must then pass the Armed Services Committee, made up of four representatives from Florida and three from Virginia, among others.

The potential move has been a contentious battle since the Kennedy's days were numbered.

Florida's leaders, going all the way back to when Jeb Bush was governor, have pushed for a continued carrier presence at Mayport, citing national security as the main reason, though the economic benefit is in the billions of dollars.

Norfolk currently has five carriers and is the only homeport on the East Coast. There are three homeports for five carriers on the West Coast.  One (the USS George Washington) is homeported in Japan.

"Homeporting an aircraft carrier at Mayport will diversify our fleet's strategic dispersal, is a priority of the U.S. Navy, has been reinforced in the Quadrennial Defense Review, and has been supported by both the Bush and Obama administrations," said Rubio in a statement Thursday. 

"The goal of ensuring strategic dispersal of our carrier fleet is a national priority that should be above politics and budget games.  The essentiality of homeporting a carrier at Mayport is settled and, instead of blocking or delaying this move, the recent GAO report about the plan's reduced costs only bolsters the case for accelerating the move."

The GAO (Government Accountability Office) reports Rubio mentioned the cost of moving a carrier is estimated at $283 million, considerably less than the original Navy estimate of almost $400 million. Even at that number, though, the Navy still said moving a carrier to Mayport was the best option.

Rep. Ander Crenshaw said it's a game being played by Virginia.

"At a time when our nation is faced with serious and pertinent national security challenges, my colleagues from Virginia wish to debate an issue that has already been thoroughly reviewed and decided," said the Florida Republican. "The Navy has spoken, the Department of Defense has spoken, and Congress has spoken.

"I continue to be amazed that six years of intense scrutiny, countless hearings, comprehensive analyses at the military's highest levels, and three straight years of Congressional funding are not enough to prevent my colleagues from Virginia from trying to revisit this issue yet again."

While Mayport would benefit tremendously from the thousands of people and jobs the carrier would bring, Virginia is equally unhappy about the prospect of losing them.

It's not as simple as sailing a carrier down the coast and setting up shop in Mayport. The last carrier homeported in Florida was also the last carrier that didn't use nuclear power for propulsion.

To move a newer carrier to Mayport requires significant upgrades. For one thing, the channel needs dredging because the newer ships are considerably larger.  Money for that has already been approved.

Another issue is nuclear security and capability.  The wharf at Mayport would need a massive upgrade to be able to handle the nuclear fuel.

That's where the $283 million comes in.

Lawmakers in Virginia have argued that now is not the time to spend such money on what they see as an unnecessary move.

Once Sen. Bill Nelson, Rubio and Crenshaw learned that number, they immediately fired off a letter to Navy Secretary Ray Mabus, asking the Navy not only to keep its commitment to the move, but to expedite it.

The original plan is for the carrier to move to Mayport in 2019, but Florida's lawmakers want that moved up to 2016, saying that's plenty of time to get all of the work done.

Money for the dredging and wharf improvements was in, out, and back in the budget over the years.  President Obama put a temporary halt to the project when he took office, promising to reevaluate the decision.

He did, and in late 2009 reinstated $75 million necessary to get the work underway.  It's not directly related to a carrier move, but is necessary before one can even be considered.

First Coast News

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