Mayport to get aircraft carrier
Florida Times Union
January 30, 2010
Echoing the wording used a year ago when the Navy said it planned to move a carrier here, the review says “to mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident or natural disaster, the Navy will homeport an East Coast carrier in Mayport, Florida.”
The document was posted Friday night on the Web site of the political newsletter CongressDaily and confirmed by several sources.
“It is a huge win for Jacksonville and a huge win for America,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said about the decision, which he said had been made at “the highest level of the White House.”
City and state politicians have fought to get a carrier here since it was announced that the USS John F. Kennedy would be decommissioned in 2007.
Over the years, Mayport had been home to several of the huge ships, but when it lost the conventionally powered Kennedy, it didn’t have the infrastructure to handle the nuclear-powered vessels that now make up the Navy’s fleet.
To get the station ready to do so will cost more than $500 million and take about five years.
“There’s a lot of work ahead,” said Bill Austin, a Mayport spokesman, who said the commanding officer of the base had been briefed on the announcement Friday evening. “It’s great news for the naval station. We’re manned and ready for the challenge ahead.”
Thoseimprovements — dredging the river, building new facilities and improving roads — are expected to create several thousand jobs, in addition to the 3,190 sailors who will come with the carrier.
Concerned about losing those sailors, Virginia politicians have fought against the plan from the start.
In May that opposition led the Department of Defense to announce the Navy’s decision to homeport a carrier at Mayport — which it had signed off in January — would be studied as part of the Quadrennial Defense Review.
Since then, the two states have snapped at each other, with Virginia politicians calling the idea of upgrading Mayport “unconscionable” and nonsensical. Florida politicians have pointed to the attack on Pearl Harbor as an example of what can happen if ships are concentrated in one port.
Earlier drafts of the document appeared to be more ambiguous about what sort of decision would be made, simply saying the Navy should provide “an alternative port,” without saying a ship would be permanently moved.
The more straightforward statement in the final version eases those concerns.
One hurdle still remains, however: Paying for the work. Along with the Quadrennial Defense Review, the president’s defense budget will be submitted to Congress, and it’s unknown how much money it will contain for work at Mayport.
Florida politicians contacted late Friday, though, said they weren’t concerned.
“The fact that it’s in the QDR makes it hard to believe the president’s budget wouldn’t account for it,” said U.S. Sen. George LeMieux, R-Fla.