Sunday, January 16, 2005

President Bush listens to Floridians’ Pitch to Save Mayport Naval Station

President Bush said Friday he’s gotten the message loud and clear about the strategic importance of Mayport Naval Station and the carrier John F. Kennedy to Jacksonville’s economy, but he made no commitment about the ship’s future. Among those who have stressed the importance of the Jacksonville-area Navy base were his several Florida GOP heavyweights: his brother, Gov. Jeb Bush, Sen. Mel Martinez, Rep. Ander Crenshaw and Jacksonville Mayor John Payton. (As well as Mayport Naval Station alumnus Cruel Kev.)
“So there I was with the senator, the congressman, the mayor and the governor and guess what we talked about? We talked about the importance of Jacksonville, Florida, to the security of the United States of America,” Bush said, who visited the city to push his education and jobs plans. “I listened very carefully ... I fully understand the importance of Mayport and the Navy to the economy of Jacksonville,” Bush said. “I’ll take your message back to Washington.” But Bush stopped short of saying he would save the aging aircraft carrier, one of the two in the Navy that are not nuclear powered. The Kennedy has been at Mayport since 1995, when it replaced the USS Saratoga. It was scheduled to begin a $400 million upgrade later this year so that it could be used until 2018, but that work has been put on hold until its future can be determined. Florida congressional leaders are planning to introduce a bill later this month requiring the Navy to maintain at least 12 aircraft carriers. Bush’s budget is released Feb. 7. If the Kennedy is decommissioned, it might also result in the loss of its battle group from Mayport and the possible closure of the base, which is located northeast of Jacksonville at the mouth of the St. Johns River.
The Navy has said it wants to reduce its carrier force from 12 to 11 and mothball the Kennedy, which has a $200 million annual economic effect on Jacksonville.

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