Heave-ho for Navy repair barges

By JIM HALEY

Herald Writer

EVERETT — Two elected officials said Tuesday that they will seek $6.6 million in federal money next year to build a new ship maintenance facility in an underused warehouse at Naval Station Everett.

Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Rick Larsen, the newly elected representative from the 2nd Congressional District, took a tour of the Everett base and left convinced that the maintenance facility should be a high priority in the next federal budget process.

But just because the state officials want it doesn’t mean the money will be there, Murray cautioned.

"It will be a challenge in the upcoming budget years to get money for anything as we look at fewer and fewer surplus dollars," Murray said.

The legislators were accompanied by base commanding officer Capt. Kim Buike, who made the point that maintenance now is being done on three World War II-vintage barges.

"Clearly, the men and women who work here deserve a good place to work as well as to live, and we need to work on that," said Murray, a member of the Senate Military Construction Appropriations Subcommittee.

Larsen added: "The facilities are inadequate for the kind of job we are asking our sailors to do — to keep the ships here functioning as part of our defense."

About 200 sailors work at what’s called the Intermediate Maintenance Facility, which is charged with supporting the naval vessels assigned to the station. Work includes pipefitting, machining and fixing electronic equipment on the destroyers and frigates.

The three old barges located on a wharf near the ships’ piers stand in sharp contrast to the campuslike setting of the rest of the naval station, the newest and most modern in the country.

The original plan for the base in the early 1990s included a new ship maintenance facility with a $17 million price tag. The proposal was excluded from final plans after a great deal of wrangling in Congress about the cost of the new home port.

The barges were brought in as a temporary measure when the base opened, but it’s not an efficient solution, Buike said. The sailors spend too much time maintaining the barges instead of concentrating on work for the ships, he said.

An average of five days a year of work are lost on the barges because of rough weather. In addition, some work can’t be accomplished on the barges because of their size or location.

Instead of pursuing a new building, Buike and his staff worked out a less expensive plan using the warehouse at the south end of the base close to the piers and ships. The $6.6 million price would be a considerable savings over the original plan, and would also save the cost of a planned $5 million overhaul of the barges in the next few years, Buike said.

"It’s frustrating for the sailors whose job it is to fix things for the ships," Buike said. "That’s what they’re paid to do, not fix the barges."

Larsen, a Snohomish County Council member who will be sworn in as a congressman on Jan. 3, said he has requested assignment to the House Armed Services Committee, as well as the Banking and the Transportation and Infrastructure committees. He won’t know his assignments until January.

However, he put in a bid for Armed Services because there are two major naval facilities in the district, the Everett base and Whidbey Island Naval Air Station.

Larsen said he will probably keep a district office in the Wall Street Building in Everett, where outgoing Rep. Jack Metcalf set up his staff.

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