The nuclear aircraft carrier USS Dwight D. Eisenhower sailing into Mayport/Photo by Jessica Lyke Jones
NAVAL STATION MAYPORT, Fla. -- As Sen. Bill Nelson promised earlier this month, nearly $15 million remains in the budget to continue upgrading the Navy base in anticipation of the arrival of a nuclear aircraft carrier.
Nelson (D-Fla.) was at Mayport Dec. 4 discussing the 2012 defense budget and its potential impact on the First Coast.
Included in the version that passed the Senate was a $14.9 million allocation to make improvements on the base, including widening Massey Avenue.
According to a news release from the office of Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.), the same amount of money was included in the version that passed the House, which was included in the Fiscal Year 2012 Appropriations Bill.
Crenshaw announced today that the House voted 269-121 to pass the bill and send it to the Senate, where Crenshaw believes it will be passed today.
Crenshaw has been joined by Nelson and Florida's junior senator, Republican Marco Rubio, plus Rep. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) in making Mayport nuclearization a priority.
"Despite repeated attempts by some lawmakers to block improvements needed to bring a nuclear carrier to Mayport, we're still on track," Nelson said. "Dispersing the carrier fleet is vital to our national security and that's why it continues to have the support of the Pentagon and most in Congress."
Currently all five nuclear aircraft carriers on the East Coast are homeported in Virginia. Mayport has not been home to a carrier since the decommissioning of USS John F. Kennedy in 2007. that ship was conventionally-powered, so Mayport needs a significant upgrade to be able to safely host a nuclear carrier.
The Navy's plan is to move one of the carriers from Virginia to Mayport, though the specific carrier hasn't been named and Virginia's delegation continues to fight the decision.
"This is a priority of the U.S. Navy that has been reinforced in the most recent Quadrennial Defense Review, and has been supported by both the Bush and Obama administrations," Rubio said. "Today's announcement is an important step towards realizing this national goal of safeguarding our carrier fleet."
The work to be done includes dredging the port to accommodate a ship larger than the Kennedy, upgrading the wharf to handle nuclear material and upgrading the base itself to better handle the influx of people a carrier would bring.
"The House and Senate agreement is another win for Mayport and means military construction projects needed to homeport a nuclear aircraft carrier at the base will keep moving forward," Crenshaw said. "Top military leaders have stated from day one that they stand behind the strategic imperative of two nuclear-capable homeports on the East Coast."
Though all official plans call for the move, the timeline remains up in the air.
The plan calls for the carrier to move to Mayport in 2019, but Florida's delegation believes all necessary preparations can be made by 2016.
Virginia's leaders cite money as a reason to prevent the move, which the Government Accountability Office has estimated has estimated at between $258.7 million and $356 million, though the Navy had earlier estimated the cost at $537 million.
First Coast News