Region ready to fight for nuclear carrier

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The Navy seems intent on proving the old adage “easy come, easy go.” Just four days after officials commissioned the USS George H.W. Bush, the fifth nuclear-powered aircraft carrier to take up residence at Norfolk Naval Station, the Navy announced tentative plans to move one of those carriers to Mayport Naval Station near Jacksonville, Fla.

Navy Secretary Donald C. Winter said that the move was a strategic necessity. “This allows the Navy to obtain the benefits of fleet dispersal without negatively impacting our carrier capability or operations,” he said in a news release. “Homeporting a carrier in Mayport best supports the Navy’s mission and safeguards our nation’s security needs.”

Mayport’s facilities will have to be upgraded to support a nuclear carrier. The work, which will cost the Navy up to $700 million, will include channel dredging and construction of nuclear propulsion plant maintenance facilities. Mayport won’t be ready to receive a carrier until 2014.

Virginia officials cautioned against assuming that the Navy will get its way. “It’s not a done deal,” says Frank Roberts, executive director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance. He says that the decision is not prudent given the Navy’s $4.6 billion budget shortfall and the $400 million it recently spent to improve Norfolk’s waterfront and pier facilities.

“The decision has to be supported ultimately by legislation and by appropriations and permitting actions and so forth,” Roberts says. “But now that we have a new administration and the congruity of the current economic situation, the decision is likely to come under a lot of scrutiny as the legislative process plays out this year.”

In fact, two nominees for high-ranking Defense Department posts, William J. Lynn III and Michele Flournoy, promised Virginia’s Sen. Jim Webb during confirmation hearings that they would review the Navy’s decision.

If the move is approved by Congress, Virginia officials say Hampton Roads will lose an estimated 11,000 jobs and more than a half-billion dollars in annual economic activity.

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