First-Family Name May Be Weapon In Carrier Battle




 
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Boots
 
May 14th, 2008  
Team Infidel
 
 

Topic: First-Family Name May Be Weapon In Carrier Battle


The Hill
May 14, 2008
Pg. 1
By Roxana Tiron
Jeb Bush traveled to Newport News , Va., in 2006 to do more than honor his father at the christening of the George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier. He came with a bold pitch as the governor of Florida — to bring the ship back home with him.
Most of the Bush clan was on hand for the ceremony, and Virginians now fear the weight of the first family could be the difference in a bidding war for the newest nuclear-powered carrier.
Each state wants the right to house the aircraft carrier: Florida at the Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville; and Virginia at the Naval Station Norfolk, the world’s largest aircraft carrier base.
The decision on where to place the carrier lies with the Chief of Naval Operations and the Secretary of Defense. But this time it could be complicated by a lawsuit threatened by Virginia community leaders, who charge the Navy is dismissing their concerns and speeding along the process.
The stakes are high for both states, with both fearing they could lose at least $1 billion in annual economic activity, scores of jobs and support industries that typically blossom around the massive carrier.
The carrier will be commissioned on Jan. 10, 2009, a mere 10 days before President George W. Bush, the namesake’s other well-known son, leaves the White House.
“I hope the president does not get tied around the fact that his brother is former governor,” said outgoing Sen. John Warner (R-Va.), who as the former chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee put the new carrier’s name into law.
But Warner and the state’s other senator, Jim Webb (D), oppose the carrier’s move to Mayport, a naval station not designed to house nuclear carriers. That could require an investment of upwards of $500 million to prepare the station for the Bush carrier, the senators argue.
The Florida delegation argues the cost would be lower, while Virginia’s warns that the cost could escalate.
“It is a very costly thing to put in all the infrastructure to take the big carrier,” Warner told The Hill. “At any one time in Virginia there is only one carrier, maybe at most two for a period, so there is more than adequate infrastructure to take care of it. So why do we have to duplicate it in Florida?”
But Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.), Warner’s and Webb’s colleague on the Armed Services panel, is convinced that Jacksonville will house the carrier as a measure of national security: dispersing the carrier fleet along the East Coast.
“I know we will get a carrier,” Nelson said in a short interview. “The testimony that we have received over and over and over [is] that you have to disperse the Atlantic fleet for security purposes.”
Having too many carriers in one port could create a strategic target for an enemy of the U.S., much like Pearl Harbor, Mayport supporters argue.
Mayport has also recently been designated the home of the 4th Fleet with responsibility over the southern hemisphere. That designation bolsters not only Mayport’s military role but also its chances of getting a nuclear-powered carrier.
Mayport was home to the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy carrier until it was decommissioned last March. To house a nuclear-powered carrier, the base would need special maintenance facilities, road improvements and dredging.
Mayport will lose other ships, too. Ten frigates will be decommissioned by 2014, and the number of sailors will go down from 13,300 to less than 9,300.
Unless a carrier or other ships are added, the ship repair industry around the area will deteriorate.
Meanwhile, Norfolk is the only East Coast base ready to accommodate the new carrier without a large upgrade.
That base also lost one of its longtime carriers — the USS George Washington — which is changing homeports to Yokosuka, Japan, as the nation’s only carrier permanently stationed overseas.
Currently, all the fighter jets that would go on the carriers based on the East Coast are housed at the Oceana Master Jet base near Norfolk.
The crews that will be assigned to the new Bush carrier all live in the Hampton Roads area of Virginia, and so would have to move their families with the ship.
The economic activity related to one carrier can reach $1 billion a year, said Frank Roberts, who heads a nonprofit group dedicated to retaining and growing military assets in Virginia. “We lost the George Washington to Japan, and to lose another one would be a significant loss of economic activity,” he said.
Floridians argue, however, that in bringing the Bush carrier to Mayport when the flattop is ready to join the fleet, the Navy would not uproot an established carrier from another base since it has not yet been commissioned or assigned a home.
In order to inform its decision on whether to berth the new carrier and other surface ships at Mayport, the Navy is required to conduct an environmental impact study and is expecting to complete it by November. The Navy is scheduled to make its final decision in December.
The governor of Virginia and the Hampton Roads congressional delegation last month asked the Navy for what they called a routine 45-day extension to the public comment period to study and respond to the 1,600-page draft environmental study. The Navy, however, allowed only a 15-day extension.
The Navy said the limited extension won’t affect its schedule but it recognizes the importance of public review and comment.
The Navy’s response heightened concerns that the service would not seriously consider the comments submitted for the draft study, sources said.
Virginia has several concerns with the Navy’s study, including the socioeconomic effect that the basing of a nuclear carrier at Mayport would have on other bases losing their ships. There is also concern about the analysis of the impact new destroyers, and particularly a nuclear-powered carrier, would have on the environment and a number of endangered species, such as right whales.
The Virginia delegation may not leave the study decision entirely to the Navy. As the House Armed Services Committee is getting ready to mark up the 2009 defense authorization bill, Virginia lawmakers on the committee — Reps. Randy Forbes (R), Thelma Drake (R) and Robert Wittman (R) may try to include language that ensures the Navy would address the concerns.
The environmental study would ultimately also inform the Chief of Naval Operations’ strategic fleet dispersal study, currently under way.
 


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