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KITTERY, Maine — At risk of being impacted by President Donald Trump’s declared state of emergency is $161 million for three crucial projects at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, as the nation’s military construction budget is one of three avenues federal dollars are poised to be diverted from to free up funding for a southern border wall.
Trump declared the national emergency Friday. It’s not yet clear how exactly Portsmouth Naval Shipyard will be impacted, but millions of dollars slated to go toward its modernization initiatives, particularly at Dry Dock 1, may be redirected.
Fiscal year 2019 includes $161 million for Dry Dock 1′s upgrade to service Virginia class submarines, extension of a rail crane, and a consolidated warehouse replacement. The improvements are part of a larger Naval Shipyard Drydock Plan, which will invest $4.5 billion over 10 years across all public shipyards, per a Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan presented to Congress in February 2018.
The need to modernize dry docks at the nation’s four public shipyards was underscored in a Government Accountability Office report in 2017. It estimated the Navy needed to spend $20 billion overall to modernize the shipyard facilities, which it rated as “poor.”
Shipyard Cmdr. Capt. David Hunt has spoken widely about the critical urgency for dry dock modernization to meet future Navy needs.
During the recent 35-day partial government shutdown, the shipyard was not impacted, because the Department of Defense remained fully funded.
Elected officials and union presidents at the shipyard came out against the potential reallocation of funds Friday. In addition to the shipyard’s funding, U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., noted funding for the Pentagon’s drug interdiction program is also at risk.
“In the midst of an opioid drug epidemic and national health emergency that’s claiming over 70,000 lives a year, President Trump is diverting money from drug interdiction and funding set aside for military construction projects, which could potentially include the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and the New Hampshire National Guard, in order to erect a costly and ineffective border wall that he promised Mexico would pay for,” Shaheen said in a statement.
“Our founding fathers enshrined in the Constitution a division of powers to prevent this type of power grab from a president,” she continued. “Considering the impact that diverting this funding could have on the shipyard and other New Hampshire priorities, I will formally call on the Trump administration to not draw resources from projects and grants for our state.”
Richard Smith, president of the Portsmouth Federal Employees Metal Trades Council on the shipyard, said loss of funding “would be a major blow to us.”
“The biggest concern is we have a mission here for the future of the shipyard, and without our dry docks that we really truly need to support the ongoing repairs that the Navy needs, this will definitely affect us,” he said. “Everybody is hoping it doesn’t happen. But we’re quite upset if he does this, because once again, it affects our ability to do quality work on these submarines, which the Navy needs.”
Smith said shipyard officials are closely monitoring the situation, which could create a ripple effect throughout, he said.
“Some facilities are falling apart,” Smith said. “Right now, we’re keeping doors open for more information.”