Bill allows for growth at Everett Navy base

Language inserted at the last minute into a congressional bill for the U.S. Coast Guard could eventually lead to growth for Naval Station Everett and insurance against future base-closing initiatives.

The bill would direct the Coast Guard to examine the naval station and another in Pascagoula, Miss., as locations to add Coast Guard or National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration vessels and personnel.

The Everett base already is home to a Coast Guard buoy tender, the Henry Blake, and a small patrol boat, the Blue Shark.

Navy vessels include the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln, three fast frigates and two guided-missile destroyers. More than 6,000 military and civilian personnel work at the base.

Naval Station Pascagoula, which opened in 1992, was ordered closed last year, and residents there hope to fill the gap with a Coast Guard buildup.

The addition of more military assets at Everett would bolster the base’s position in any future base-closing rounds, Naval Station Everett commander Capt. Eddie Gardiner said.

Last year, Everett and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station avoided closure as the government and Pentagon sought to consolidate military activities to save money and increase cooperation among the services.

Gardiner noted that the Everett base was originally designed to house a battle group, including an aircraft carrier and a dozen frigates and destroyers. That was planned as the Navy projected a 500-ship war fleet. Instead, the Navy downsized, and there are now about 280 ships in the fleet.

No decisions have been made about adding Coast Guard vessels in Everett, or when any changes would happen.

The language was inserted into a House-Senate conference committee report, reconciling different versions of a Coast Guard authorization bill for 2006-07. Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., was one of the lawmakers who inserted the language about Naval Station Everett.

The reconciled bill is expected to pass when Congress reconvenes after the Easter break. Even if it doesn’t, the language signals congressional intent on consolidating forces.

Cantwell said the Coast Guard needs to be modernized and get new ships, and some of those assets could go to Everett.

“You find it happening in other areas,” Cantwell said. “It’s a plan that could be a cost-effective partnership.

“The point is it’s smart to be looking at cooperative arrangements and looking at personnel in the armed services involved in cooperative arrangements.”

The Navy briefed Cantwell’s staff last fall on the capacity of the naval station to handle more vessels, including larger patrol ships and icebreakers, Cantwell spokeswoman Charla Neuman said.

The conference committee language is consistent with the base-closure process, which asks the armed forces to find opportunities to combine assets and people, said U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Wash., of Everett, a member of the House Armed Services Committee.

The idea is to save money “and to encourage cooperation on homeland security and homeland defense,” he said.

“What it does mean is a recognition of cooperation between the Coast Guard and the Navy in the Northwest,” Larsen added. “That cooperation is vital for homeland defense, and we want that cooperation to continue.”

Everett governmental affairs director Pat McClain said a Navy-Coast Guard combination makes sense for the base.

“Using the station for its highest and best use is always prudent,” McClain said.

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