NORFOLK, Va. - Mayport Naval Station will become the home of a nuclear-poweredaircraft carrier, the Navy announced Wednesday.
The carrier will bring 3,190 military jobs and pump about $500million into the north Florida economy in salaries andspending.
Navy Secretary Donald Winter signed the official documentsWednesday, so work can begin on preparing the base at the mouth ofthe St. Johns River for a carrier, expected as early as 2014.
"For more than 60 years, the Navy has seen the rich strategicbenefits in home-porting aircraft carriers at Mayport. SecretaryWinter's action underscores our strategic importance and thecritical nature of having more than one aircraft carrier homeporton the East Coast," said U.S. Mel Martinez, the ranking member ofthe Senate Armed Services Subcommittee on Seapower.
The Navy announced in November that it was recommending theplacement of a nuclear carrier at Mayport in an attempt to spreadout the aircraft carriers. Currently, all the East Coast aircraftcarriers are based at Naval Station Norfolk in Virginia.
The Navy determined that placing an aircraft carrier at basenear Jacksonville reduces the risk to the fleet in case of naturaldisaster, manmade calamity or terrorist attack in Virginia.
Virginia members of Congress opposed moving a carrier, but theNavy responded that it was a strategic decision that had nothing todo with politics or economic impact.
"It's very important that the Navy spread out our Atlantic-basednuclear carriers in more than one base," said U.S. Sen. BillNelson, a member of the Senate Armed Services Committee. "Keepingall 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 spreadout carriers.
But critics argue the threat of a nuclear attack or catastrophicevent is remote, especially since rarely are all five carriershomeported at Naval Station Norfolk home at the same time.
"The rest of them are all out, training or deployed or in theshipyards," says Retired Admiral Jack Kavanaugh. "You don't havethat nuclear threat that's going to envelope the whole area."
Kavanaugh also points out that, even if a carrier is based atMayport, it will have to return to Hampton Roads after deploymentsfor overhauling.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Republican from Jacksonville and amember of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on MilitaryConstruction, also applauded the decision.
"While our nation has much to celebrate in the signing of thisdecision, we also have much work to do before a carrier ishome-ported at Mayport. I will continue to work tirelessly toensure that the necessary funding and preparations are onschedule," he said.
Preparing Mayport for a nuclear carrier will cost about $564million, including $47 million for deepening the channel and $426million for construction and infrastructure. It's not yet knownwhich carrier would move.
Martinez said the next step for the Florida delegation issecuring those resources for the move.
"National security demands we move this project forwardquickly," he said.
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