Sen. Webb, Rep. Nye hail documents they say will keep Navy carrier in Virginia

The Virginia delegation has won a reprieve from the Navy in a protracted battle with Florida over nuclear aircraft carriers.

The Navy has provided documents to Sen. Jim Webb (D-Va.), a defense authorizer, indicating that it won’t be able to transfer a nuclear aircraft carrier to Florida until 2019, instead of 2014 as initially planned, according to the senator’s office.

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Webb hailed the delay as a sign that home-porting an aircraft in Mayport, Fla., “is unlikely to happen.”

The Virginia and Florida delegations have been battling for months over where to dock a Navy nuclear aircraft carrier. Norfolk, Va., is vying to remain the only nuclear aircraft carrier base on the East Coast, but has faced competition from the Mayport Naval Station in Florida.

The stakes are high: Whichever state ends up winning the right to house the carrier can expect a boost to the local economy of nearly $1 billion a year.

The issue is particularly important to Rep. Glenn Nye (D-Va.), a freshman lawmaker facing a difficult reelection in 2010. The prospect of a serious economic hit could have added to his woes.

Norfolk, which is in Nye’s district, is currently the only homeport for aircraft carriers assigned to the East Coast. Virginians have been concerned that the East Coast fleet will dwindle in the future with the potential move of another carrier from the East Coast to the West Coast.

Virginia now hosts five carriers, but that figure could go down to three if one goes to the West Coast, as expected, and another goes to Florida.
Nye was the first to tell the Virginia Pilot that the movement of the carrier was delayed by five years.

Members of the Florida delegation said changes had always been expected to happen over time and that there was nothing new to report.

Dan McLaughlin, Sen. Bill Nelson’s (D-Fla.) spokesman, said the plan had always been to make the changes at Mayport “incrementally.”

Separately, a Republican in the Florida House delegation hit back at Nye, saying he was overstating the possibility of the carrier not moving.

“Congressman Nye was swept into office with President Obama. Now in the political fight of his life, he is saying whatever he thinks will get him more votes, whether it’s grounded in fantasy or reality,” Rep. Ander Crenshaw (R-Fla.) said in a statement.

Crenshaw said Nye “is scrambling the dates to try and achieve his own political goals.”

He added that the 2019 is a worst-case scenario and that nothing has changed in the Navy’s plans to move the carrier to Florida.

The Navy’s newest aircraft carrier, and the most likely to go to Florida, is named after President George H.W. Bush. Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, the 41st president’s son and President George W. Bush’s brother, made no secret of the fact that he wanted to see the carrier in Florida. The newest carrier will stay housed in Virginia for several years.

“Given the other needs of the Navy, and the prospect of moving other types of ships to Mayport earlier, it appears that the relocation of an aircraft carrier from Norfolk to Mayport is unlikely to happen,” Webb said in a statement Thursday.

Webb said there are better home-porting alternatives for Mayport, such as using it to nest Littoral Combat Ships on the East Coast “that would not require spending a billion dollars to build a redundant nuclear facility in Florida.”

Mayport is currently not capable of housing a nuclear carrier. Florida will need at least half a billion dollars to build special maintenance facilities, road improvements and dredging at Mayport.

Mayport was home to the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy carrier until it was decommissioned last March. Mayport will lose other ships, too. Ten frigates will be decommissioned by 2014, and the number of sailors will go from 13,300 to fewer than 9,300.

Unless a carrier or other ships are added, the ship-repair industry around the area will deteriorate. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-Fla.) and the Florida delegation have argued that having too many carriers in one port could create a strategic target for an enemy of the U.S. The Navy also justified its preference to move a carrier to Mayport partly due to its desire to disperse the fleet in the case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

Nelson and the Florida delegation have argued that having too many carriers in one port could create a strategic target for an enemy of the U.S. The Navy also justified its preference to move a carrier to Mayport partly on its desire to disperse the fleet in the case of a natural disaster or terrorist attack.

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