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ARLINGTON, Va. – The Pentagon confirmed Friday that it was delaying until 2010 any further decisions on a controversial plan to move the homeport of one aircraft carrier from Norfolk, Va., to Naval Station Mayport in Florida.

The Defense Department announced that it intends to dredge the Mayport channel in fiscal 2010 to “provide an alternative port for a carrier on the East Coast if a manmade or natural disaster or other emergency closes the Navy’s base in Norfolk, Va., or the surrounding sea approaches.”

But the U.S. will not move forward with other costly improvements required to base a carrier in Mayport, including expanding the wharf and upgrading infrastructure for nuclear maintenance facilities, the statement said.

“The Defense Department will carefully review these potential costs and will assess the potential benefits associated with an additional homeport on the East Coast before committing to any future direction.”

Virginia lawmakers who oppose the move, led by Democratic senator and former Navy secretary Jim Webb, had said on Thursday that the secretary of defense’s office had informed Congress it would not move forward until the department’s Quadrennial Defense Review, a major strategy document not due until next year.

“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,” said Webb, in a press release.

The comments launched another round of political volleys between Virginia and Florida lawmakers.

An aircraft carrier brings significant economic and jobs benefits to its host community.

On Thursday, Norfolk-area congressman Glenn Nye, a Democrat, and 18 other House members told Acting Navy Secretary B.J. Penn they would oppose budget requests related to moving a carrier to Florida before a fuller strategy review was conducted.

The joint letter read: “… we believe that significant changes to national defense strategy and force structure should be fully considered before expending as much as $1 billion to expand infrastructure at [Mayport].”

It was signed by representatives from New York, Connecticut, Washington, Louisiana, Maryland and Idaho.

Virginia-based news outlets had quickly claimed the decision as a local victory.

Florida Senator Bill Nelson, a Democrat, said Thursday that Deputy Secretary of Defense William Lynn called to reassure him that Mayport improvements would continue and that there was no change to the belief that the Navy’s carriers should be not be concentrated in one East Coast base.

On Friday, Nelson spokesman Bryan Gulley said that the senator expects the Pentagon to include $90 million to $100 million for Mayport renovations in the budget request, as is called for in an earlier Defense Department environmental impact analysis.

The Pentagon announced in January that it wanted to move a carrier to Mayport in order to spread out the Eastern Seaboard fleet.Webb’s office said then the plan was “far from a done deal” and now-undersecretary of defense for policy Michèle Flournoy told a congressional panel the final decision was still “on the table”.

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