Oldest shipyard may be drydocked in latest base-closing round

The Navy is recommending closing the nation's oldest shipyard because it has fewer submarines to overhaul, and the service can save more than $1 billion by consolidating the work at its three remaining shipyards, senior Navy officials said.

Chief of Naval Operations Adm. Vern Clark told the Base Realignment and Closure Commission on Tuesday that the Navy has too much capacity in its four shipyards. He says the service decided to recommend closing its Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, because its nuclear submarine fleet has fallen from about a hundred a decade ago to about 50 today.

The Portsmouth shipyard primarily repairs nuclear attack submarines.

Last week, the Pentagon recommended closing 33 major bases and realigning scores of others in its first attempt in a decade to downsize and reposition military installations across the United States. The recommendations are being reviewed by an independent nine-member BRAC panel that must deliver a final list to the president by Sept. 8. If the president approves those suggestions, Congress has 45 days to accept or reject them in their entirety.

About 84,000 civilian jobs would move if the Pentagon's recommendations are approved. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, on an island opposite Portsmouth, N.H., would stand to lose the most civilian jobs of any single installation--4,032, though some of them may be shifted to other shipyards. The work would be shared among the Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard in Hawaii, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington state, and the Norfolk, Va., Naval Shipyard.

Navy officials told the BRAC commission that an alternative they had considered was to close the Pearl Harbor facility, but that proved far more expensive than shutting down Portsmouth. The Navy expects it will save $1.26 billion over the next 20 years, after first investing $448 million to shut down the yard and move work elsewhere.

Navy Secretary Gordon England said at the hearing that the Navy examined moving more work to keep it open, but that would have forced other shipyards to operate less efficiently and create breaks in work schedules. England stressed that the decision had nothing to do with the quality of the shipyard's work, which he called "excellent."

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