Sunday, April 12, 2009

Pentagon Delays Decision On Carrier Move

The Defense Department has decided to delay the decision on whether to homeport an aircraft carrier in Mayport, Fla., until it comprehensively reviews the issue during the 2010 Quadrennial Defense Review. The decision had not been officially announced as of late Thursday. The Virginian-Pilot learned of it via an e-mail sent by a Navy officer in the defense secretary's office to congressional staffers Thursday afternoon. The e-mail also said the Navy will proceed with dredging work at Mayport Naval Station so that it can serve either as a future homeport or as an emergency location for a carrier. In January, after a 2 1/2-year environmental study, the Navy formally endorsed plans to homeport a nuclear carrier at Mayport. The Navy said at the time that dispersing the East Coast fleet would reduce the risks of a catastrophic attack or natural disaster. Florida leaders celebrated the decision as Virginia officials fretted over the loss of an estimated 11,000 jobs and $600 million in annual income that accompany a carrier . Meanwhile, the two states' congressional delegations prepared for a legislative face off. Virginia questioned the wisdom of spending at least $565 million to prepare Mayport for a nuclear carrier. Florida, which lost the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy from Mayport when it was decommission ed in 2007, touted the national security benefits of the move. A trio of senators from the two states weighed in on the unannounced decision Thursday. "I am gratified that the Department of Defense has formally decided to postpone the major elements of the Navy's proposal until after a proper strategic review has been conducted, as I have consistently urged," Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., said in a statement."I look forward to reviewing the rest of the proposal - which includes a request for funds to conduct minimal dredging and pier work at Mayport - on its merits, as part of the Fiscal Year 2010 budget process." Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., struck a similar tone . "This is a promising development for the taxpayers and for the Navy, and I am pleased the Pentagon has agreed with our request to focus on the fiscal and strategic realities of building an extra nuclear carrier facility at Mayport," he said. Gov. Timothy M. Kaine was more cautious, saying the decision "offers some room for optimism." On the other end of the fight, Florida Sen. Bill Nelson's office weighed in. "The deputy secretary of defense told Sen. Nelson today they're still proceeding with construction of the pier and dredging to make Mayport naval station ready for a nuclear-powered carrier," spokesman Dan McLaughlin said in a written statement. "And, there's been no change in the Navy's prior conclusion that basing a carrier there is critical to national security." Frank Roberts, director of the Hampton Roads Military and Federal Facilities Alliance, said the Navy had more pressing needs than spending $600 million to prepare Mayport Naval Station for a nuclear carrier. "It's definitely the right and appropriate decision," he said. Considering the move as part of next year's quadrennial defense review will delay a decision until at least 2011, he said. This means the Navy will keep its fleet of five operational carriers at Norfolk Naval Station. However, Roberts does not think the issue is dead. "I don't think we're ever safe," he said. "We have to be constantly vigilant."

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