By Gale Fiege and Debra Smith Herald Writers
EVERETT — Getting the Navy to commit to replacing the USS Abraham Lincoln with the USS Nimitz was no small feat, said Everett Mayor Ray Stephanson.
Behind the scenes, a team of people including Washington’s congressional delegation was lobbying high-ranking Navy officials. Among the messages they shared is that Everett wants the Navy in town. Everett has the infrastructure to support not just the crew and family from another aircraft carrier, but more ships as well.
“Naval Station Everett was built to support 13 ships,” Stephanson said. “We’re only at half that complement.”
It’s not just lip service. The city has helped lobby for improvements on the base such as an education center that allows sailors to complete training on base rather than in another state.
The mayor also organized an effort to get the Navy, Boeing and researchers at the University of Washington and Washington State University to collaborate on developing alternative fuels for the Navy’s ships and jets. Alternative fuels are something Boeing is also interested in. Both universities recently received $40 million grants to research those issues. Stephanson got the idea after listening to the Secretary of the Navy talk about alternative fuels in early 2010.
“It was an ‘Aha!’ moment,” he said. “I thought, ‘Why not have Everett be the poster child for what the Navy is trying to be?’ “
That level of commitment by a community is something the Navy seems to appreciate and is something that not all other cities offer, Stephanson said. And the presence of an aircraft carrier at the base adds one more check in the plus column when officials at the Pentagon shift resources and consider base closures.
Everett is ready to welcome the Nimitz, Stephanson said.
For most of this year, the USS Nimitz has been undergoing maintenance at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton. It is set to pull into its new home in Everett sometime in January.
When Naval Station Everett was under construction in the early 1990s, the original plan was to make the Nimitz the centerpiece of the base.
The first in its class of 10 nuclear-powered aircraft carriers, the Nimitz was commissioned in 1975. The carrier called Bremerton home from 1987 to 1997. But after the Nimitz underwent the mid-life refueling of its nuclear reactors from 1998 to 2001, it was moved to San Diego in November 2001.
The decision to base the Nimitz in Everett followed a lengthy analysis and review, Navy officials said. Locating the carrier here ensures long-term strategic dispersal of warships on the West Coast and saves the Navy more than $100 million in housing costs and transportation, Navy officials said. Factors that were considered included the quality of life for sailors and their families and the welcoming community.