- Associated Press - Monday, February 13, 2012

RICHMOND (AP) — The Navy’s plans to move an aircraft carrier from Virginia to Florida are on hold for now, but the two states likely will see a shuffling of some other military ships.

President Obama did not include money to retrofit the Mayport, Fla., port to accommodate a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier in his budget announced Monday. While some Virginia congressmen said the move signaled that the Navy had canceled plans to move the carrier from Norfolk, at least one Florida official said only that the move was on hold.

Defense officials have said that having all five East Coast-based aircraft carriers based in one place — Norfolk — is a national security concern because of the possibility of a natural disaster or man-made calamity, but they have acknowledged the budget strains for relocating the carrier to Florida. Aircraft carriers on the West Coast are home-ported at three bases.

Sen. Mark R. Warner, Virginia Democrat, on Monday said the Navy will keep the carriers in Norfolk through 2020, but there will be some “modest shifts” in people and ships at Little Creek Naval Amphibious Base in Virginia Beach. Overall, the Navy plans to keep 111,000 Navy and Marine Corps personnel in Hampton Roads during that time, which is only 3,000 fewer than the current level, Mr. Warner said in a statement.

Officials from Virginia have spent four years asking the Navy to review the planned move, saying it was unnecessary and too costly and would hurt the Hampton Roads economy.

Florida officials, meanwhile, have pushed hard for the carrier move to Mayport, which previously served as home to the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy, which was decommissioned in 2007.

The U.S. Government Accountability Office has estimated the cost of retrofitting the Florida port near Jacksonville to accommodate a nuclear carrier and moving it there to be $258.7 million to $356 million, which Virginia representatives contended is too expensive at a time when the Defense Department has other needs.

“Historic fiscal challenges and the devastating prospect of a trillion dollars in defense cuts have only bolstered our argument that such a move would not just be strategically unnecessary, but also fiscally irresponsible,” Rep. J. Randy Forbes, Virginia Republican, said in a statement Monday.

However, Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Florida Republican whose district includes the Mayport base, said delaying the carrier move “makes no sense” because it only will make the move more costly down the road.

“The Pentagon is making a short-sighted fiscal decision that is not in the best interest of national security,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Crenshaw added that he’s been assured that the Navy is still committed to ultimately moving a nuclear aircraft carrier to Mayport and that it plans to send additional vessels there, including an amphibious ship and support ships, as well as additional destroyers, patrol crafts and littoral combat ships. The Navy did not immediately say where those ships would be relocated from.



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