Future of Portsmouth Shipyard in Doubt

Portsmouth Naval Shipyard supporters have again voiced concerns about the future of the shipyard in the face of Pentagon Recommendations to close the facility. The Save our Shipyard Task Force, a coalition of community groups, contends that the Bush Administration, led by Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, remains committed to outsourcing submarine repair and maintenance work to private sector yards.

Although the Base Realignment and closure Commission voted last August to reject Pentagon calls to close the yard, the future of the shipyard rests with the Navy’s willingness to commit to submarine repair and maintenance work after 2008. Current submarine repair work is robust at the Maine facility, but the workload is decreasing across the Navy’s entire array of shipyards for the next decade. Moreover, federal base closure initiatives have been the prime mover in closing all but four of the Navy’s nuclear licensed shipyards in the period since 1990.

An industry executive who asked to remain anonymous said that the rejection of the closure recommendation was only delaying the inevitable. Beyond this, he continued, “In reality, there is not enough work to sustain the yard and a primary source of its business, namely refueling nuclear submarines, is drying up. The typical surface vessel can’t fit there and while Trident subs have been brought in, there just isn’t room to perform the required maintenance tasks, once berthed.”