COURTESY U.S. NAVY
Two submarines were being worked on yesterday at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard, which could be added to the list of military installations to be closed.
‘Efficiency’ cited in panel
request to add Pearl to list
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is "less efficient" than the shipyard in Maine that the Pentagon recommended be closed, according to a federal independent panel.
The head of the Base Realignment and Closure commission wrote yesterday to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, asking him to justify why he had recommended closing Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine, and assign its work to the Navy's remaining three ship repair facilities.
Anthony Principi, commission chairman, wrote that closing Pearl Harbor because it was less efficient could result in additional "savings from reduced unit costs at the receiving shipyards because of a higher volume of work."
Defense officials said the Navy does not need four shipyards, and closing Portsmouth will save $21 million initially, then $129 million annually by shifting work to yards at Pearl Harbor, Norfolk, Va., and Bremerton, Wash.
Principi's commission also said, "Naval Shipyard Pearl Harbor has low military value compared to other shipyards according to DoD (Department of Defense) analysis supporting the recommendation to close Naval Shipyard Portsmouth."
But retired four-star Adm. Thomas Fargo, who was head of all the U.S. forces in the Pacific until May, said from "a strategic standpoint, that doesn't make sense."
"Both today and even more so in the future, the preponderance of our vital national security interests are in Asia and the Pacific," said Fargo, who commanded the Pacific Fleet for several years before heading the U.S. Pacific Command.
"From a practical and operational standpoint, the focus of discussion is adding additional naval capability to the Pacific. Closing one of its two major U.S. shipyards in the Pacific would add to the cost to intermediate maintenance and impact our readiness and speed of response."
U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye, a senior ranking member in Congress, also spoke against the possible closure, recalling that 64 years ago "we turned our back on the dangers that were arising from the Pacific" and nearly lost the Pacific Fleet on Dec. 7, 1941.
"Many experts have noted that in the foreseeable future, the one area of the world which could require our military attention is the Pacific," added Inouye, D-Hawaii.
"We face a belligerent dictator in Kim Jong Il in North Korea. We have terrorist organizations in several countries in the Asia-Pacific region that could jeopardize regional stability. And we know the only country that has the potential to engage us in the near future as a superpower is China.
"The vastness of the Pacific has always made it an area where the Navy was the key power," Inouye said. "The ships of the Pacific Fleet are dedicated to maintaining peace and stability in the region. The Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard provides the basis to keep the ships operating and ready when needed."
Inouye also rejected the BRAC commission's recommendation to examine Pearl Harbor because it is dissatisfied with the Pentagon's justification for closing Portsmouth.
"If the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard were to remain open, the Navy would still need Pearl Harbor to provide the support for the Pacific Fleet," Inouye added.
"The location of Portsmouth in the northeastern United States means it is simply geographically ill-equipped to support the ships of the Pacific Fleet."
Principi, in separate letters to Hawaii's delegation today, said the commission is simply seeking more information from Rumsfeld before deciding whether to add bases to the list. His request caught island Navy, political and business leaders by surprise.
Gov. Linda Lingle said she had not known about the commission's request for more information. She said the original Pentagon decision not to include Pearl Harbor among bases to be closed shows how important it is.
"It is obvious that he (Rumsfeld) believes it to be important to the nation's defense," Lingle said. "While it may involve a lot of jobs, I don't think the decision should be made on that basis. I think it should be made on whether it is necessary to keep the nation secure."
Lingle said she would lobby in Washington against the shipyard's closure if needed.
"I would assume our congressional delegation is probably on top of this, and if they ever feel they need my involvement, they call me," Lingle said.
The Pentagon's recommendation to the BRAC commission two months ago caused a major political firestorm, as the majority of installations affected are, like Portsmouth, in the northeastern United States.
It is unknown whether Principi's request is an attempt to deflect that criticism as the commission holds public hearings in the affected states. He is required by law to ask the Pentagon such questions before modifying the hit list.
In the May 13 recommendation to the BRAC commission, Rumsfeld said there is "sufficient excess capacity" across the Navy's four shipyards -- Portsmouth, Pearl Harbor, Puget Sound and Norfolk -- to close either Portsmouth or Pearl Harbor.
The Pentagon chose Portsmouth, which straddles the border between Maine and New Hampshire, because "it is the only closure which could both eliminate excess capacity and satisfy retention of strategically placed shipyard capacity."
Portsmouth, like Pearl Harbor, employs nearly 4,300 civilian workers.
Besides Pearl Harbor, the commission wants the Pentagon to explain at a July 18 public hearing why the Marine Corps Recruit Depot and Navy Broadway Complex, both in San Diego, were not slated for closure.
It also wants Rumsfeld to explain the Pentagon's decisions to downsize, rather than close, the Naval Air Station in Brunswick, Maine, Pope Air Force Base in North Carolina and Grand Forks Air Force Base in North Dakota.
The commission is slated to vote on the fate of Pearl Harbor on July 19. It will take seven of nine votes to add a base to the closure list.
Another vote will be taken during the week of Aug. 22 on whether to remove any installation from the list.
Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard was established in May 1908 and is the Navy's only mid-Pacific ship repair and overhaul facility. It has four dry docks and more than 13,000 feet of berthing and pier space.
The BRAC commission must send its recommendations to President Bush by Sept. 8. Bush can only approve or reject the list in its entirety. If he approves it, the matter is sent to Congress, which must accept it or reject it as a whole.
Base closure panel's time line
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld published list of military installations to be closed or realigned.
July 18: BRAC public hearing in Washington on proposal to add Pearl Harbor to hit list.
July 19: BRAC commission vote to decide fate of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.
Sept. 8: BRAC commission transmits findings to President Bush.
Sept. 23: Bush submits his approval or disapproval of commission's recommendations. If Bush approves findings, Congress has 45 legislative days to disapprove all recommendations, or they become binding on the Pentagon.
Oct. 20: If Bush rejects commission's recommendations, the commission must submit revised recommendations to the president.
Nov. 7: Bush's deadline to submit revised recommendations to Congress.
Star-Bulletin reporter Richard Borreca contributed to this report.