Specter's Pushing Navy Yard

Posted: August 05, 1992

WASHINGTON — In an election year, everything's political.

And nothing's more political than the fate of the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.

In June 1991, a base closure commission voted to begin shutting down the yard in 1996. Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., and Reps. Tom Foglietta, D-Pa., Curt Weldon, R-Pa., and Rob Andrews, D-N.J., filed a lawsuit against the Navy and the commission soon after.

Since then, a U.S. District Court judge threw out the case and the Third Circuit Court of Appeals sent the case back to the district court.

So, with the legal issues unsettled, and President Bush's re-election chances in doubt, Specter, in a tough re-election fight himself, and his staff are putting the heat on the Navy and the Justice Department to work out a settlement.

KEEPING WORK HERE

They are hoping that because Pennsylvania is a crucial state for Bush - as Specter's Senate seat is crucial for the Republicans - their chances of keeping the yard open are improved.

"My hope is to win the agreement of the DOD (Department of Defense) to keep the Navy Yard open," Specter said in a recent interview. "The point would be that we would (get) work that would be of value to the Navy that would keep it open indefinitely."

For Specter, the timing is critical. Recent polls show him in a dead heat with Democratic challenger Lynn Yeakel.

Winning Philadelphia is crucial to both candidates and a victory in the lawsuit could be enough to tip the scales in Specter's favor, said Terry Madonna, director of the Center for Politics and Public Affairs at Millersville University.

"Obviously it's going to help him because we're talking about jobs and a good bit of business the city would get as a result of it," he said. "There would be a recognition of his effectiveness and I think that's one of the key issues that will be argued in the campaign - how effective he is."

The delegation is looking for a settlement that would keep the Navy Yard open into the next century - bypassing the base closure list next year - with work that meets the Navy's needs as well as an expansion into the private sector, such as repairing and overhauling cruise ships.

Weldon and Andrews think the timing is in their favor. The recent Tailhook sexual harassment scandal generated so many negative stories - and led to the resignation of Navy Secretary Lawrence Garrett - that the Navy doesn't want more unfavorable publicity.

And that is likely to happen if the case goes back to court. Lawyers for the elected officials dug up documents from the Navy's own files that showed the decision to close the Navy Yard was made long before there was a law dictating how such decisions should be made.

"Garrett's gone and the reason Garrett's gone is the Navy was being run as a slipshod operation," Andrews said. "The same kind of meticulous planning that went into Tailhook went into the base closure decision."

BIDS IN THE WORKS

The delegation seems optimistic about the lawsuit, but that does not mean all is well at the yard.

The Navy Yard has bid on overhauls of the USS Butte, an ammunitions ship, and the USS Ticonderoga, a destroyer with an AEGIS weapons defense system, but there has been no word yet as to who got the contracts. Supporters believe it is because Philadelphia won them.

"My inside information is that the bid has been held up because the Navy Yard was the low bidder," Weldon said.

Spokesmen for the Navy denied that, saying only that it is still in the bidding process.

The Ticonderoga, in particular, is important because it would be the first step toward making the yard the center for repairing cruisers and destroyers with AEGIS.

That idea was Weldon's brainstorm, but was drawn up by the Penjerdel Council, a tristate association of business leaders, and presented to the Navy last year.

Gil Ward, president of the Joint Committee for Yard Development at the Navy Yard, said work on those two ships is crucial because it fills a gap in the workload. Both would arrive by next month if the yard gets the contracts.

"There will be a significant impact if we don't get the ships," he said. ''It's like a business. We need to be doing work in order to have the cash flow to pay workers and so forth."

In addition, word has been sent out that the yard will not be able to bid for any more work beginning in fiscal 1993, Andrews said.

"The weasels in the Pentagon are getting dragged out into the light of day," he said. "They're launching a counterattack by gnawing away at what we have."

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