NORFOLK (AP) -- The Navy plans to maintain its 2019 timeline for moving a nuclear-powered aircraft carrier from Virginia to Florida despite pressure from Florida lawmakers to speed up the move by three years.
"This approach is the best balance of risk and available resources across the Navy portfolio," Navy Secretary Ray Mabus wrote in an April 29 letter to the Florida delegation provided to The Associated Press.
U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ander Crenshaw of Florida had written Mabus weeks earlier asking him to move a carrier from Norfolk to Mayport in the 2016 fiscal year, saying it was necessary to reduce national security risks.
The Navy wants to move a carrier from Virginia because Norfolk is currently the only home port for all five East Coast-based aircraft carriers.
Defense officials contend that's a national security concern, citing threats of manmade calamity, terrorism and natural disasters. The West Coast has five carriers based in three locations in California and Washington.
The port near Jacksonville previously served as home to the conventionally powered John F. Kennedy, but it was decommissioned in 2007. The port needs to be upgraded before it can serve as a home port for nuclear carriers.
Virginia lawmakers say the Navy has yet to make a compelling case for why moving a carrier to Florida would improve national security, noting that it is rare for all five carriers to be in port at the same time and that upgrading the port near Jacksonville would be expensive at a time the Navy has other pressing needs such as ship maintenance and construction.
The underlying issue for lawmakers in both states is that moving a carrier would move thousands of jobs along with it. Virginia leaders have said the southeastern part of the state stands to lose 6,000 jobs, half of those sailors aboard a carrier, and $425 million in annual revenue if a carrier permanently sails to Mayport.
U.S. Rep. Randy Forbes (R-4th District) said Florida's delegation is trying to speed up the move because it doesn't stand up to scrutiny.
"I think very clearly that the more analysis that is done to this, the more everybody concludes that this has nothing to do with national defense and it has everything thing to do with creating jobs in Florida and electoral votes in an election," Forbes said.
Forbes used his position as chairman of the House Armed Services Readiness Subcommittee last week to strip $30 million earmarked for upgrades to the Florida port from a defense bill. The money was redirected to pay for base housing, Forbes said.
Florida lawmakers say Virginia's delegation is repeating a tired exercise.
"We don't need a rerun of the same show. We've got serious national security challenges and they still want to talk about a decision that's already been decided," said Crenshaw, a Republican who represents the Jacksonville area. "The Navy's basically said we need two East Coast home ports for nuclear carriers. On the West Coast we have three. The facts are overwhelming."
In their April 4 letter, the Florida lawmakers said the move could be fast-tracked because a March Government Accountability Office report said upgrading Naval Station could cost less than half what the Navy estimated it would.
But in Mabus' response, he said the savings weren't as vast as believed.
"Our review indicated that GAO's estimates would be similar to the Navy's when all elements and supporting costs (utilities, demolition, environmental mitigations, etc.) are included," he wrote.
(Copyright 2011 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.) APTV-05-10-11 1226EDT