By Mark D. Faram Navy Times
Amid the current budget crisis, the Navy is moving forward with plans to shift the first of three vessels to Naval Station Mayport, Fla.
Rep. Ander Crenshaw, R-Fla., whose congressional district includes the Mayport base, said in a release that the Navy told him and other lawmakers March 12 that the landing platform dock New York will officially begin to call the northern Florida Naval base home on Dec. 1. The New York is currently stationed in Norfolk, Va.
Crenshaw previously expressed concerns that sequestration budget cuts could delay the move.
However, the Navy has yet to officially announce the move publicly. Lawmakers were given the Dec. 1 date as part of a routine update to Congress on March 12, Navy sources said.
The New York is scheduled to be the first of three ships to move to Mayport. The amphibious assault ship Iwo Jima and the dock landing ship Ft. McHenry will transfer to the base by the first quarter of fiscal 2015.
As of August, 19 ships and 5,017 sailors called the base home. In the 1980s, the base boasted two aircraft carriers, 28 combatants and nearly 30,000 sailors.
The base will lose two more frigates and with them a few hundred sailors as the Klakring and Underwood are retired from service. But the arrival of the New York, with 31 officers and 326 enlisted sailors and their families, will begin to reverse that trend, the first growth the base has seen since the destroyer Farragut arrived in 2005.
The base was slated to be upgraded to a nuclear homeport with the expectation of welcoming an aircraft carrier in 2019, but the required construction and the resultant move were delayed indefinitely due to budget constraints in February 2012.
At the time, the Navy said it “remained committed” to eventually relocating a carrier to the Northern Florida base sometime in the future. The base is also expected to be the East Coast hub for the new littoral combat ship, but the first ship isn’t expected to even arrive until 2016 or beyond.
Navy Secretary Ray Mabus promised a year ago that the ARG would move to the base by 2015. In June, he moved up that schedule to 2014, which meant the New York arriving before the end of calendar year 2013.
It’s now a promise the Navy intends to keep, Crenshaw said.
“As Congress deals with very difficult budget decisions, this is promising news for national security and the [Jacksonville area],” Crenshaw said. “This first phase of the ARG move to Mayport underscores the Navy’s commitment to a strategic dispersal of assets — a strategy I have long advocated on Capitol Hill.”
The public announcement of the effective move date should come soon because once that is set, the service can issue homeport change certificates that allow sailors onboard the ship to begin to plan for the move to the new base.
The announcement also allows the Navy to begin to plan for those transferring to the ship to move their families to Mayport, not Norfolk, preventing them from having to move twice in the same year. Sailors normally negotiate orders nine-to-five months ahead of their transfer dates.