March 4th, 2010, 19:30
Va. senators continue to fight Mayport plan
The battle of Mayport continues. Although the Navy and the Defense Department have decided to base a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in the north Florida port, Virginia politicians are challenging the decision — as they have for at least a decade.
Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., fired the latest shot Thursday, during a hearing on the 2011 defense budget. He complained to Deputy Defense Secretary William Lynn that “no analysis was done” to support the latest decision to move an aircraft carrier from Norfolk.
Warner, whose state is home to five nuclear-powered carriers, said the Defense Department’s estimate that it will cost $671 million to prepare Mayport for a nuclear carrier has “grossly underestimated” the cost. Dredging a mile-and-a-half-long, 55-foot deep channel into Mayport, upgrading a pier and building facilities to maintain nuclear propulsion systems will cost “well in access of $1 billion,” he said.
Warner called the plan to move a carrier to Mayport an insurance policy that’s “nice to have,” but not necessary, and not affordable.
The Defense Department concluded otherwise.
In the Quadrennial Defense Review that it released Feb. 1, the department said it wants to move a carrier to Mayport “to mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident or natural disaster.”
And far from an unneeded insurance policy, Lynn said, moving a carrier to Mayport was “an important strategic decision.”
Defense officials worry that basing five of the Navy’s largest ships in one port could make several of them simultaneously vulnerable to military strikes, terrorists, hurricanes and other disasters.
Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., was ready for Warner’s attack. He listed chiefs of naval operations, defense secretaries and their deputies, members of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and others who over the years have supported moving a nuclear aircraft carrier to Mayport.
And he cited Navy estimates that port upgrades might cost $500 million, or even $430 million, not $671 million.
Nelson said he has been fighting the battle of Mayport “laboriously, for the 10 years since I’ve been here. I wish that since the Defense Department has made its decision, we could let it be,” he said. “At some point we’ve got to decide and move on.”
But the financial stakes are too high on both sides for that.
There are thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of dollars in income and taxes to be gained by the winner and lost by the loser.
The Congressional Research Service says Mayport could gain 2,900 jobs, $220 million in payroll income, $208 million in disposable income and $10 million in local taxes.
Meanwhile, Virginia officials estimate that moving a Norfolk-based carrier to Mayport will cost Virginia about 11,000 jobs and $600 million in annual income.
March 4th, 2010 19:30