Congress is battleground over carrier move to Mayport
Now that the Department of Defense has made clear its intent to move a Norfolk-based aircraft carrier to Mayport, Fla., the battle between Florida and Virginia shifts to Congress.Members of the Hampton Roads congressional delegation have pledged to fight tooth and nail to block any more money for the project.
They’re taking on Florida’s congressional delegation, who outnumber the Virginians by more than two to one and are already claiming victory.Hampton Roads representatives said they are not ready to talk about what might happen if the carrier battle is lost.
“We have to continue to have a united front,” said U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes, a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee. “I think clearly they’ve got the lead now. They’ve got the horsepower. We’ve got to hope that somewhere along we’ll get a break.”
The stakes are high on both sides.
Florida legislators say a carrier would mean thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions for the local economy. Mayport Naval Station, which is home to more than 20 ships, lost its only carrier when the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy was decommissioned in 2007.
In Hampton Roads, a carrier provides about 6,000 jobs and $425 million in annual revenue, according to recent estimates from the Hampton Roads Planning District Commission. About half the jobs are carrier personnel. The others include construction, health care, social services, professional and technical services, and hotels and restaurants.
Each region’s c ongressional delegation is intent on exposing why the other side is wrong. But lawmakers don’t want it seen as a parochial battle over jobs – that makes it harder to build support among their colleagues, they said.
Legislators from both states say it’s a national security issue – but for different reasons.
U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Republican whose district includes Mayport, said the Navy has stated – most recently in a four-year strategic defense review – that having one port on the East Coast for nuclear-powered carriers is a weakness in the nation’s defense system.
“All the senior military officials know this is the right thing to do,” he said.
Virginia supporters have argued that the Navy hasn’t offered data to back up the claim that having one East Coast base makes the carriers more susceptible to terrorist attacks or man-made and natural disasters.