The Case for Two East Coast Homeports is “Overwhelming and Simply Irrefutable”
By Congressman Ander Crenshaw
December 7, 2008
Recently, the Navy announced a decision to homeport a nuclear carrier at Naval Station Mayport, Florida, establishing a second nuclear port on the east coast. The decision was based on neither economic input nor political influence. It was a decision to protect our strategic assets and sailors. A decision based on national security – pure and simple. The facts supporting the Navy’s decision are overwhelming and simply irrefutable.
First of all, strategic dispersal has always been the Navy’s rule rather than the exception, which is why there are three nuclear carrier homeports and maintenance facilities on the west coast and not just one.
Yet, today, all 5 of the current east coast aircraft carriers, and the only nuclear maintenance facility for these vessels, are located in the Norfolk area. This year, all 5 of our nuclear aircraft carriers were in port simultaneously for 35 days. And most alarming, normal operating schedules put 2 or more of our 5 aircraft carriers in port or undergoing routine maintenance in Norfolk 81% of the time.
But, in today’s dangerous world, homeporting all of the east coast carriers in the same place is irresponsible and it is a dereliction of duty to keep taking chances with the Atlantic fleet of carriers especially when Norfolk is considered the most vulnerable port according to the Department of Homeland Security’s assessment.
More troubling is the concern that if tragedy, man-made or nature-created, rendered the Norfolk nuclear maintenance facility inoperative, our service personnel and ships would be forced to journey almost a month around the tip of South America to receive such maintenance on the west coast. That is a long time for a carrier with serious problems to be underway.
Secondly, the Navy’s decision was based on years of research, national security concerns, and military strategy. The Navy presented an irrefutable case for their decision in a recently completed 2½ year Environmental Impact Study (EIS) to examine the feasibility of creating a second nuclear carrier homeport. There was no rush to judgment. Every fact was reviewed and deliberated. In fact, the final decision was not included in the Draft EIS which was released earlier this year to guarantee the Navy enough time to review the strategic findings and implications of the Navy’s entire fleet dispersal plan.
The Navy’s decision is a culmination of a series of objective and non-political proceedings that led to the release of an exhaustive 1,200 page report detailing the facts and reasoning for its decision. The Navy’s decision is sound and correctly focused on national security.
Finally, Mayport has a tremendous and unequivocal geographic benefit over the Norfolk area. Ships homeported at Mayport have a huge advantage in their ability to reach operational areas at sea. Norfolk based carriers have to travel under a bridge and over a tunnel during an 8 hour journey to reach operational areas off the Virginia coast. A Mayport based carrier takes only a 1 hour journey and is protected by a natural land barrier that separates it from commercial shipping lanes – a feature that Norfolk doesn’t have. Those are staggering differences, and further affirm the Navy’s decision.
I am more confident than ever that the Navy made the best decision to protect its service personnel, our strongest tools of national defense – our aircraft carriers, and the American public. It was made in a non-political fashion, ensuring that the ultimate decision was strategic and based solely on national security.
Sixty-seven years ago today, over 2,400 brave men and women in uniform were tragically killed and another 1,200 were wounded in the Japanese attack at Pearl Harbor. Over 21 Pacific Fleet ships were destroyed along with 75% of their aircraft.
Following the attacks, President Roosevelt appointed a commission which later found that Admiral Husband Kimmel had been guilty of “dereliction of duty” and “errors of judgment.” He was demoted and swiftly retired from service. December 7, 1941, taught this nation an important lesson – do not concentrate your resources in one place. The Navy began a policy of strategic dispersal of its assets.
On the commemoration of this horrific attack, it is troubling that anyone would attempt to insert politics into a decision that has already been made and made without political considerations. We should never place a price tag on national security - our brave men and women deserve better than having their fate hinge upon a political or financial debate.
Anything short of implementing the Navy’s decision places us in the dangerous position of ignoring history.