Rell celebrates state's foothold in base's future $7.65M a bid to keep jobs, stabilize economy
By Jennifer Grogan
September 25, 2009
Groton - Gov. M. Jodi Rell gave Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus $7.65 million to make improvements at the Naval Submarine Base Thursday, a gift she hopes will be a down payment on the base's future.
”We wanted to step up to the plate to show our support and our interest in keeping this base as a viable operating base for the infrastructure of the Navy,” Rell said.
”I would love to have a signed document that says that any future BRAC (Defense Base Closure and Realignment) consideration would never ever, ever include Groton. That's not feasible. The Navy's not going to do that, but I think they understand and appreciate what we've done and will continue to try to do to enhance the facility here.”
One of the primary reasons the Pentagon proposed closing the base in 2005 was its aging infrastructure. The money will be used to upgrade the facility for divers and replace the aging boilers at the power plant.
”The fact that Connecticut stepped up with money for infrastructure projects directly on the base sends a very clear and a very important signal, one that we appreciate and support,” Mabus said after the ceremony at which he formally accepted the gift on the Navy's behalf.
The base, Rell said, has an annual impact of $3 billion to the state's economy, with more than 15,000 jobs linked to the base. Other states have given the Navy money for various programs, but no other state has fully funded a construction project on a base.
Rell called spending $7.65 million now to preserve $3 billion later, “a wise investment” that “demonstrates our commitment in no uncertain terms.”
After Rell gave a letter to Mabus explaining the reason for the contribution, a group of Navy divers called out, “Hooyah SECNAV, hooyah governor, hooyah Connecticut, hooyah deep sea!”
The audience at the ceremony included Vice Adm. John J. Donnelly, commander of the Submarine Force, Rear Adm. Paul J. Bushong, commander of Submarine Group Two, and Capt. Marc W. Denno, base commander, as well as local base supporters and politicians.
The legislature authorized $40 million for improvements to the base in 2007, but there were initial questions about whether the Navy could enter into such a partnership with a state under the current federal rules.
The state's congressional delegation wrote letters to the Navy to help clear up the confusion. Mabus said Thursday that the terms of the deal were negotiated to fall within existing grant guidelines, with no changes to the rules or law required.
Investing in the base, Mabus said, “shows a lot of foresight on behalf of the state government here, the legislature and the governor” especially in “these trying fiscal times that every state is facing.”
”Connecticut has shown what can be done when we work in partnership, and not only for the national security of our country but also the fact that we have and will keep the high-paying, high-skilled jobs that are represented here,” he said, adding that the state's actions “have gone a long way to making sure we maintain the industrial base here in Connecticut.”
John C. Markowicz, chairman of the Subase Coalition, said he thinks there will be another round of base closures, most likely within four years.
”We need to keep making these infrastructure investments- the sooner the better,” he said at the ceremony.
When asked about a future BRAC, Mabus said he would “stay away from hypotheticals” but closing bases to get rid of excess infrastructure “has not been a major topic of conversation for looking for ways to save.”
The current diver facility is housed in one of the oldest buildings on the base, built in 1918. The new building, with more space and better heating and insulation, will support the Navy divers who help inspect and repair the submarines.
The power plant upgrade is part of an effort to replace boilers from the 1960s with ones that better meet environmental standards and cost less to run.
The state has already transferred the money to the Navy. Rell said the rest of the $40 million will be spent over time, as priority projects come to the state's attention.