Pearl Harbor
remains logical spot
for naval shipyard


An independent commission has asked the Pentagon to justify closing a facility in Maine instead of Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard.

POLITICAL pressure is casting doubt about Pentagon plans to close a naval shipyard in New Hampshire, with politicos aiming torpedoes instead at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. A nine-member commission has asked Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld to justify his decision once again.

Rumsfeld explained in May that closing some military bases while expanding others was intended to adapt the military to present threats. "Our current arrangement, designed for the Cold War," he said, "must give way to the new demands of the war against extremism and other evolving 21st-century challenges."

The decision to shutter the historic Portsmouth Naval Shipyard at Kittery, Me., brought shock waves to that area. The facility supports a $283 million payroll, with 60 percent of the workforce coming from Maine and the rest from New Hampshire. The two states' congressional delegations, led by their four Republican senators, launched an immediate campaign to save the shipyard.

In response, an independent commission assessing the proposed list of bases has asked Rumsfeld to justify the closure of the Kittery facility and more than a dozen other bases. Anthony J. Principi, chairman of the commission, maintained that Navy records show Portsmouth to have been more efficient than Pearl Harbor.

In a letter to Rumsfeld, Principi said the panel was "inquiring, not deciding," but a commission hearing tomorrow in Boston is likely to have all the trappings of a rally against New England base closures, especially Portsmouth. No hearing is scheduled in Hawaii. Seven of the nine commission members are needed to amend the Pentagon plan. President Bush or Congress then can either approve or reject the entire list.

Four naval shipyards now perform repair work, but the Pentagon's choice for closure came down to Portsmouth or Pearl Harbor. Portsmouth was selected "because it is the only closure which could both eliminate excess capacity and satisfy strategically placed shipyard capability," according to the May report by the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

When the BRAC report was released, Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H., conceded that it would be difficult to prove that closing the Maine shipyard would be a "substantial deviation" from the commission's criteria. Instead, the New England politicians are attempting to change the criteria, claiming Portsmouth should be rewarded for its supposed superior efficiency.

Rumsfeld should continue to focus on the nation's defense. Retired four-star Adm. Thomas Fargo, former commander of U.S. forces in the Pacific, appropriately has pointed out that "the preponderance of our vital national security interests are in Asia and the Pacific." Pearl Harbor is the logical shipyard to continue operating "from a practical and operational standpoint."

If Portsmouth has been a model of efficiency, perhaps its practices can be followed at Pearl Harbor.

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