Navy building ports while closing others Grandiose port projects seem likely to survive.

February 14, 1992|By Knight-Ridder

The investigative arm of Congress calls them expensive and unnecessary.

A retired admiral who commanded the Navy's 2nd Fleet says they are the ultimate "pork barrel."

But despite withering criticism, five new ports the Navy is building appear likely to survive the current wave of military cuts.

The new Navy ports are under construction in Ingleside, Texas; Pascagoula, Miss.; Mobile, Ala.; Staten Island, N.Y.; and Everett, Wash.

The new ports were conceived during the 1980s defense buildup, when the Pentagon planned for a 600-ship fleet. But even before it became clear the Navy would never grow that large, the new home ports stirred controversy.

Though they originally were estimated to cost $799 million, the General Accounting Office -- Congress' investigative arm -- recently reported the total cost to open the new ports would be $1.4 billion. And that's without the usual trappings, such as commissaries and bowling alleys.

Today, as the armed services face cuts of 30 percent or more, the Navy might have to justify the new bases to members of Congress looking to preserve other ports in their own districts. But the members of Congress in whose districts the new ports are being built stand in the way of killing the projects.

In testimony before the Armed Services Committee last week, Defense Secretary Dick Cheney defended the home ports. He said the Department of Defense had examined the new ports closely but believed that too much already had been invested to halt construction.

"It makes sense to go forward and complete them," Mr. Cheney said. When asked whether he had read a recent report by the GAO critical of the new ports, he said he had not.

Few people outside government circles know that the Navy is building new bases when military installations across the country are closing.

But many of those who do know have been blasting the plan.

A June report by the GAO recommended stopping construction on the new ports, which the GAO estimated would result in one-time savings of $593 million and annual savings of at least $57 million. The highly critical GAO report said the Navy is so well fixed for space that all of the ships scheduled to go to the new bases could fit into berths now empty at two of the Navy's 13 existing U.S. ports.

"I have followed this for some time, and I've been trying to convince the Navy that it was a dumb idea," says Jack Shanahan, a retired admiral who lives in Daytona Beach, Fla.

Mr. Shanahan, who once commanded the 2nd Fleet's 110 ships along the Atlantic seaboard, is exasperated.

"It became political, as opposed to strategic or tactical. You couldn't make logical arguments against the home ports because it was going to be a pork-barrel project," he says.

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