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Pensacola News Journal

NAS Port Plan Can Be A Boost For Area

Upgrading the base's docking facilities will make it even better for hosting port calls by Navy ships training in the Gulf of Mexico.

March 15, 2002
Copyright © 2002
Pensacola News Journal. All Rights Reserved.

Even without an aircraft carrier or other large ship calling Pensacola Naval Air Station home, a plan to upgrade the docking facilities at Allegheny Pier shows the impact it can have, both on continued base operations and the local economy.

The pier was built to homeport an aircraft carrier for flight training, but the ship was a victim of budget cuts. Upgrading the base's docking facilities will make it even better for hosting port calls by Navy ships training in the Gulf of Mexico.

We continue to believe that President Bush is mistaken to allow political considerations to close the Navy's premier live-fire training site at Vieques Island, Puerto Rico . But NAS' ability to provide support for the Navy's training mission is good for the area economically.

Ships visiting Pensacola can have a big impact through leave for officers and crew. Crews that have been at sea for long periods are ready to hit restaurants, shops and movie theaters.

Also, ships taking on supplies at the base create business for companies that provide the needed goods.

Unfortunately, Bush's decision to close Vieques - widely seen as a political sop to South Florida Hispanic voters - left the Navy to patch together a training program that will include the use of a number of sites along the Gulf and Atlantic coasts. That's not what's best for the Navy, but it can only deal with the situation that is handed to it.

The Eglin Air Force Base testing range is one such site. Its proximity to Pensacola, and the need to bring training groups into the Gulf of Mexico, makes NAS a logical place for port calls. That supports it future operations.

Frankly, Pensacola NAS is unlikely to be closed in the proposed new round of base closures (Whiting Field Naval Air Station in Santa Rosa County is more threatened). However, that's not a reason for complacency. The flight training mission out of Sherman Field at Pensacola NAS could be threatened by growth in the area, hopefully minimized by Escambia County efforts to limit development near the base.

Even if the base stays open, losing the training mission would be an economic blow. Upgrading the pier facilities to bring in new ships is one way of diversifying and growing the base's mission.

Securing the funds to upgrade the base should be a focus for Sens. Bill Nelson and Bob Graham, and Rep. Jeff Miller.

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