Decision on carrier base opposed by Virginia lawmakers
ARLINGTON, Va. — The Navy this week announced it will homeport an aircraft carrier at Naval Station Mayport in Florida, sparking criticism from Virginia lawmakers who vowed to fight the decision.
Sen. Jim Webb, D-Va., a former secretary of the Navy and member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, blasted the announcement as a politically motivated "forgone conclusion" that the Bush administration wanted to push before the president leaves office next week.
A spokeswoman for Webb told Stars and Stripes they believed Defense Secretary Gates was not strongly behind the nonbinding decision, which the next Navy secretary could reverse.
"I think the Navy still has an uphill battle," the spokeswoman said. "As far as we’re concerned, this is far from a done deal."
The move would put a nuclear-powered aircraft at an East Coast port outside of Norfolk for the first time to diversify the fleet’s location in case calamity struck the Norfolk area, the Navy said.
Anticipation of the decision, and the jobs and economic boost it would bring, already had opened a turf war between delegates from Florida, who praised the Navy’s decision, and Virginia congressmen, who called it wasteful and unjustified.
Rep. J. Randy Forbes, R-Va., ranking member on the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, called it "a short-sighted, political decision" that contradicted the Navy’s own concerns about budget shortfalls.
Sen. Mel Martinez, R-Fla., supported the move in a speech at a Navy conference near the Pentagon this week.
Webb earlier this month released a 24-page report his office said debunks the Navy’s justification for the move. This week, he dismissed the idea of an expanded Florida facility as redundant, saying the Navy has not explained why nuclear facilities at Norfolk are insufficient.
"This is not a simple turf issue between competing interests in Virginia and Florida. ... I am an American before I am a Virginian," he said.
During the confirmation hearings for William J. Lynn III, Obama’s nominee for deputy secretary of defense, and Michèle Flournoy, undersecretary of defense nominee, both agreed to review the decision after Webb pressed them on the issue.
"I think taking a look at our global posture including our homeporting and basing structure is certainly going to be on the table," Flournoy said.
Naval Station Mayport hosts 22 guided missile destroyers, cruisers, frigates and other vessels.
Webb’s report is available at: http://webb.senate.gov/contact/homeport/CriticalAssessmentMayportHomeporting.pdf.