WASHINGTON, D.C. - It's known simply as the QDR, the QuadrennialDefense Review. Tucked deep inside the lengthy report, there isone page--one sentence--that could spell bad news for Virginian andHampton Roads: "...the U.S. Navy will homeport an east coastcarrier in Mayport, Florida."
"Its a little surprising that over the weekend the word Mayporthad been put into the QDR," U.S. Sen. Jim Webb, R-Virginia, said byphone Monday. "It was not in there as far as we know at the end oflast week."
The inclusion was a surprise to Webb, but the debate itself hasbeen ongoing for more than a year.
The Navy says it wants to make the move because Naval StationNorfolk is the largest Navy base in the world and it houses severalnuclear powered carriers. With so much power in one place, the Navyfears a natural disaster or terrorist attack could be catastrophicto the nation's defense.
Naval Station Mayport in Jacksonville, Fla. had often beendiscussed as a destination for one of the carriers.
At a news conference Monday morning, Florida lawmakers were morethan pleased to see the report, claiming they had won thedebate.
"It's going to be hard for anybody to argue that this hasn't hada thorough review. It's been the most reviewed project that I'veever seen, the decision this time, in fact, is a final decision,"Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a republican from Florida's 4th district, toldreporters in Jacksonville.
Florida Sen. Bill Nelson (D) called it a great day forJacksonville and America.
"The decision's done and now get ready, there are going to be4,000 sailors coming, their families, half a billion dollars ofconstruction in the meantime...all that ancillary business thatwill come with a carrier."
Sen. Webb said the Florida lawmakers may be getting ahead ofthemselves, as the report is a valuable planning document, but notone that holds force of law. Congress would have to approve themove in addition to appropriating funding because it's a projectthat comes with a $1 billion price tag.
"I would be very curious to see where the Navy believes it cantake a billion dollars away from shipbuilding programs, weaponsprocurement, ship maintenance and repair, those sorts of issues andbuilding the fleet, in order to put an alternate port that reallyisn't needed," he said.
Webb believes money would be wasted by building another port tosupport a nuclear carrier.
Currently, Mayport does not have one and would have to build, amove Webb suggested would be redundant federal spending.
"We have to be very careful stewards of where the taxpayerdollars go in a time when we're looking at constraining our budgets- a billion dollars to build something of a redundant facility whenwe could take that money and put it into other programs, I don'tsee the justification for it."
Webb said at least four other ports around the world couldcurrently house a nuclear carrier if there was a need to move oneout of Virginia.
U.S. Sen. Mark Warner offered his opinion on the issue Mondayafternoon. In an email to WAVY.com, Warner wrote:
“In a time of concern about federal spending and budget deficits, I will be asking tough questions about this Pentagon plan to divert $700 million to $1 billion -- or more – to reassign an aircraft carrier from the Norfolk Naval Station.
“The Commonwealth of Virginia has long supported the world’s largest naval base at Norfolk. In fact, it was Virginia shipbuilders who constructed the Navy’s first nuclear-powered aircraft carrier nearly 50 years ago and who continue to build, refuel and maintain the carriers today.
"We will continue to work in partnership with Sen. Jim Webb, our colleagues in the House of Representatives, and our state and local partners to maintain Virginia's historic and long-standing commitment to support our military installations and Virginia's military men and women and their families."
Senator Webb also released an official statement Monday:
“As someone who has spent time in the military and served as Secretary of the Navy, I both understand our national security priorities and our responsibility to be careful stewards of the taxpayers’ dollars—especially at a time of great budget constraints. We are talking about a billion dollars to build a redundant facility, when we can and should be investing that money into other, higher-priority defense programs. I don’t see the justification; it has yet to be demonstrated.
“I would be curious to see where the Navy believes that it can take a billion dollars away from shipbuilding, weapons procurement, ship maintenance and repair, and building a fleet in order to construct an alternate port which, on all accounts, doesn’t seem to be needed.
“This is not a done deal.
“The QDR—while a valuable internal, planningdocument—does not have the force of law. ThePresident’s budget request will have to be authorized andappropriated by the Congress; and my colleagues and I in theVirginia delegation have been working assiduously all year to makesure that these key strategic questions are addressed and also thatthese funding issues are balanced out.”
Tuesday, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates and Chairman ofthe Joint Chiefs of Staff Adm. Mike Mullen appeared before theSenate Armed Services Committee to discuss the Quadrennial DefenseReview. Webb is a member of that committee.
During their appearance, Webb reiterated his feeling thatspending a billion dollars for a "nice to have" extra carrier porton the East Coast was inappropriate given other pressing Navyneeds, including ship building and maintenance. He advised bothGates and Mullen that he would be addressing the Mayportrecommendation with them at a later time.
The Quadrennial Defense Review released Monday states:
"To mitigate the risk of a terrorist attack, accident, or natural disaster, the U.S. Navy will homeport an East Coast carrier in Mayport, Florida."
One year ago, in January, 2009, the Navy announced itsintentions to move an East Coast-based carrier from Norfolk toMayport.
In April, however, the Navy said it would delay and review thatdecision.
The Monday release of the Quadrennial Defense Review (QDR)re-affirms the Navy's original intent.
The most likely carrier to move to Florida is believed to be theNavy's newest, the USS George H.W. Bush, although Mullen saidbefore the Senate Armed Services Committee Tuesday that no formalrecommendation on which carrier would move had been made.
Right now, Mayport is not able to accommodate nuclear-poweredaircraft carriers. Virginia's congressional representativeshave attempted to block funding for the dredging operationsnecessary at Naval Station Mayport.
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