Florida Bound?

Published 8:17 pm Thursday, January 28, 2010

Last January, U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-Va.) referred to the idea of moving one of the Navy’s nuclear-powered aircraft carriers from Norfolk to a base in Mayport, Fla., as “short-sighted.” Just over a year later, and after additional reports supporting the move, Forbes’ opinion has not changed.

Forbes, who is the ranking member of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee, has continued his protest to the proposed plans and has found support from the rest of Virginia’s Congressional delegation.

But media reports out Thursday in both Virginia and Florida may have been bad news to those around Hampton Roads wanting to keep all of the East Coast carriers in Norfolk.

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A draft of the Quadrennial Defense Review was obtained by a number of media outlets and detailed support for moving a carrier, which officials claim would help “mitigate the risk of a manmade or natural disaster.”

According to statistics from the Hampton Roads Chamber of Commerce, the loss of a carrier – and her crew, dependents and other support personnel – could cost up to 11,000 jobs in the Hampton Roads area and have an economic impact of more than $650 million.

“It’s really hard to put a dollar amount on what impact it would have specifically on Suffolk,” said Kevin Hughes, acting director of the Suffolk Economic Development office. “But there is no doubt the loss of a carrier would have an impact.”

Hughes talked about the ripple effect such a loss would have across Hampton Roads, being felt much more strongly in Norfolk and then moving out throughout the area and throughout the economy.

“I am sure there would be families affected in Suffolk,” Hughes said. “But you also need to think of the suppliers, such as Cisco and Sara Lee, who have large contracts with Naval Station Norfolk that would also be impacted.”

The draft report does not provide a timeline for relocating a carrier — or any other ships within a battle group — nor have any specific ships been identified.

But in a release this week, Forbes questioned the Navy’s priorities in light of its pursuing the idea while so many other issues face the armed service.

“I look forward to asking Navy officials in depth as they present their budget what other priorities were sacrificed for this unnecessary and costly decision,” Forbes said. “With the cost of the move estimated to be anywhere from $600 million to $1 billion – not including personnel relocation costs – the Navy has chosen to forgo significant impacts on critical unfinished priorities, including building one or possibly two [littoral combat ships], funding over half of the cost of a destroyer, restoring aging infrastructure in our shipyards, or investing in over a dozen F/A-18s.”