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Updated: Thursday, 11 Jun 2009, 1:57 PM EDT
Published : Wednesday, 14 Jan 2009, 4:06 PM EST
NORFOLK, Va. - Mayport Naval Station will become the home of a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier, the Navy announced Wednesday.
The carrier will bring 3,190 military jobs and pump about $500 million into the north Florida economy in salaries and spending.
Navy Secretary Donald Winter signed the official documents Wednesday, so work can begin on preparing the base at the mouth of the St. Johns River for a carrier, expected as early as 2014.
"For more than 60 years, the Navy has seen the rich strategic benefits in home-porting aircraft carriers at Mayport. Secretary Winter's action underscores our strategic importance and the critical nature of having more than one aircraft carrier homeport on the East Coast," said U.S. Mel Martinez, the ranking member of the Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower.
The Navy announced in November that it was recommending the placement of a nuclear carrier at Mayport in an attempt to spread out the aircraft carriers. Currently, all the East Coast aircraft carriers are based at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
The Navy determined that placing an aircraft carrier at base near Jacksonville reduces the risk to the fleet in case of natural disaster, manmade calamity or terrorist attack in Virginia.
Virginia members of Congress opposed moving a carrier, but the Navy responded that it was a strategic decision that had nothing to do with politics or economic impact.
"It's very important that the Navy spread out our Atlantic-based nuclear carriers in more than one base," said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Keeping all the carriers in just one port is too great a risk."
Nelson and Martinez have often mentioned the surprise Dec. 7, 1941, attack on Pearl Harbor by the Japanese as a reason to spread out carriers.
But critics argue the threat of a nuclear attack or catastrophic event is remote, especially since rarely are all five carriers homeported at Naval Station Norfolk home at the same time.
"The rest of them are all out, training or deployed or in the shipyards," says Retired Admiral Jack Kavanaugh. "You don't have that nuclear threat that's going to envelope the whole area."
Kavanaugh also points out that, even if a carrier is based at Mayport, it will have to return to Hampton Roads after deployments for overhauling.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Republican from Jacksonville and a member of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Military Construction, also applauded the decision.
"While our nation has much to celebrate in the signing of this decision, we also have much work to do before a carrier is home-ported at Mayport. I will continue to work tirelessly to ensure that the necessary funding and preparations are on schedule," he said.
Preparing Mayport for a nuclear carrier will cost about $564 million, including $47 million for deepening the channel and $426 million for construction and infrastructure. It's not yet known which carrier would move.
Martinez said the next step for the Florida delegation is securing those resources for the move.
"National security demands we move this project forward quickly," he said.