Mayport’s Gain, Norfolk’s Loss

The Marine Corps Reserve is chained to New Orleans and the Navy is beefing up its ship inventory at Naval Station Mayport, Fla. What gives?

It has been reported Mayport, located in Jacksonville, will be the main East Coast home port for the littoral combat ship. Within a decade, 17 LCS vessels could be berthed on the Florida coast, though the first is not scheduled to moor for another six years.

Mayport is due to lose at least 13 frigates and the associated sailors during this same period. Frigate crews run about 200 sailors, while a lean LCS numbers just 40. For Mayport this translates into lost revenue.

The Florida naval station has been in the news for some time. The Navy has been working to ferry carriers southward from Norfolk to the protests of Virginia senators Jim “Women Can’t Fight” Webb and Mark Warner. First it was one carrier, now the Navy is considering home porting two nuclear aircraft carriers in Mayport.

Warner is fighting any move from his state. He maintains Mayport has greatly underestimated its cost. (But who wouldn’t?)

Florida lost the John F Kennedy when it was decommissioned in March 2007. The Kennedy was oil-fired. The next carrier will be a nuclear vessel and Mayport is spending at least $500 million to prepare. But the business community expects that much in return annually. Though the carrier is not yet named, the USS George H. W. Bush is rumored to call Mayport home. In fact, the Navy’s newest carrier made a quick stop at the port for supplies last week. The naval station can handle 34 ships. As of January 2009 it was home to just 21.

Bottom line: The Navy is working to get two robust carrier ports on each coast, an task easier with a fleet of 600 or even 350 vessels. Recent decommissionings pushed the Navy off course. Norfolk’s loss will be Mayport’s gain, though we are sure lawmakers will continue to fight for their interests and push for the best deal possible. Stay tuned.

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