Wise Investment to Protect Base Future
September 25, 2009
After formally committing $7.65 million in Connecticut money to improve the federal submarine base in Groton, state officials could not have asked for better words of encouragement from Navy Secretary Ray Mabus.
”I would absolutely encourage other states to look at doing things like this, to approach it as a partnership, as a two-way street. And I think it helps ensure from the state level that facilities remain open, that their citizens have jobs and that those jobs are going to continue,” said Secretary Mabus in an exclusive interview with Day defense reporter Jennifer Grogan this week.
Unfortunately, even the Navy secretary cannot ensure that the Naval Submarine Base in Groton remains open. By law the strategists and bean counters at the Pentagon periodically go through the process of reviewing bases for military value and operational costs and then recommend closings. Once a review panel approves that list, Congress must accept or reject it in its entirety, an arrangement to remove politics from the equation.
But if the state is going to have a friend in its corner, the Navy secretary is not a bad choice. And the state's first-of-its-kind decision to invest in improvements at a federal military installation is one more example of how dramatically the landscape has changed since the Pentagon threatened to close the base in 2005.
Back then the state averted the shut-down only because a broad-based, bipartisan coalition came together and convinced the base-closure review commission to remove the Groton site from the list. Since then the state, and its elected leaders, have taken a pro-active approach to improving the value of the base and addressing the issues that led to the Pentagon recommendation to shutter it.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell deserves credit for forming an ad hoc committee in the wake of the 2005 near closing and charging it with both examining ways to diversify the region's economy and enhance the base's value. A subcommittee of that group, chaired by John Markowicz (who also headed the Subase Coalition that played a key role in averting the closing), came up with the novel idea of the state directly investing in the property to demonstrate its commitment.
That idea, after many twists and turns, led to Thursday's announcement that the U.S. Navy was formally accepting the $7.65 million state gift. It will pay for a new support facility for the divers who do submarine inspection and repair work and for the installation of a new heating boiler at the central power plant.
For a time it appeared the state's investment proposal would not happen. Gov. Rell was initially reluctant to back the plan without assurances the base would remain open. Given federal law, no such promise was possible. The Navy also rejected the state's idea of providing the money under a lease arrangement.
The state's congressional delegation - 2nd District Rep. Joe Courtney and Sens. Joe Lieberman and Christopher J. Dodd - played the role of intermediaries in working out the details and removing potential impediments. And the governor backed off on her demands, making the investment possible.
It is not without risk. The base could still appear on a future closure list. And the appropriateness of investing state dollars in a federal military facility is open to debate. But the base accounts for about 15,000 jobs and has an annual $3 billion economic impact in Connecticut. If it were to close, the Electric Boat submarine manufacturing plant would likely follow. Spending $7.65 million to try to avoid that double disaster is well worth it.
Also during the last couple of years the state's congressional delegation has secured nearly $80 million in federal defense spending for base improvements. These include replacement of the Submarine Learning Center, renovation of the Waterfront Operations Center, pier replacements, and the planned construction of a new indoor firearms range.
It is a better military installation than it was in 2005. The state's commitment is stronger. And faith in the base's long-term prospects is much improved.