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The Florida Times-Union

Mayport Base Looks To The Future Changes Help Chances, Crenshaw Says

BY Christopher F. Aguilar, Shorelines staff writer

May 31, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Florida Times-Union, Bell & Howell Information and Learning Company. All rights reserved. 

The Navy's closing of its bombing range on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques this month and speculation that a major naval base in Puerto Rico could close in 2005 could help Mayport Naval Station survive as a new round of base closures approaches.

"It works in our benefit," said U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla. "It makes us even more valuable."

The Navy's bombing training on Vieques has shifted to the Ocala National Forest and to other areas in North Carolina and Georgia. The shift puts greater emphasis on using naval installations in Jacksonville, Crenshaw said.

Crenshaw toured the nuclear submarine USS Jacksonville and the aircraft carrier USS John F. Kennedy at Mayport Naval Station this week. The Jacksonville made a five-day port visit to the area after completing training operations, while the Kennedy is undergoing about $300 million worth of maintenance work and upgrades. The Jacksonville last visited Mayport in August.

Crenshaw's visit focused on the Kennedy overhaul, which as of Tuesday was halfway done, and his interest in the naval base's future as a home port for a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier.

"This is Mayport's future," Crenshaw said, pointing at the Jacksonville.

He then pointed to the Kennedy, towering in the background.

"That is Mayport's present," he said.

Mayport Naval Station has the capability to port a nuclear vessel temporarily but would need upgrades to house a nuclear carrier.

Crenshaw said the base has received $60 million worth of non- nuclear-specific upgrades. The Navy would have to make nuclear- specific upgrades if it decides to base a nuclear carrier at Mayport, Crenshaw said.

As reported May 10 in Shorelines, major work has been done to increase the carrier pier's electrical capacity, which is needed to power a nuclear carrier after it turns off its nuclear reactor while docked A $5.67 million contract completed in August upgraded or replaced electric and other utility connections, including drinking water, sewer, waste and steam systems, on the pier. The Navy also has strengthened the carrier pier and dredged the Mayport basin.

Current and future upgrades could bode well for the base's future, Crenshaw said. The Base Realignment and Closure Commission will receive recommendations by May 15, 2005, while the Department of Defense will publish draft selection criteria by Dec. 31 and final criteria by Feb. 16.

Atlantic Beach Mayor John Meserve, who also is a member of a base closure committee with the Jacksonville Regional Chamber of Commerce, said it would be logical to keep Mayport open as a second East Coast installation in combination with Norfolk, Va.

"It would be stupid to put all ships in one port," he said.

He said as speculation that Roosevelt Roads Naval Base in Puerto Rico could close and other installations in the Caribbean and South Florida lessen in importance, Mayport's importance to the Navy increases.

"It's important strategically for the Navy to be here," Meserve said.

Crenshaw also said the maintenance work on the Kennedy is important for Mayport's and Jacksonville's future as a location for major ship repairs.

"This bodes well for Jacksonville," he said. "This will be the real future of Jacksonville."

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