Lincoln to leave Everett in 2013

EVERETT — The only aircraft carrier ever to call Everett home will leave in 2013 and likely be replaced by another ship in the same class.

The USS Abraham Lincoln is scheduled for mid-life refueling of its nuclear reactors. That job is expected to take nearly three years at a shipyard in Norfolk, Va.

The USS Nimitz will head from San Diego to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Bremerton in December 2010 and will move to Everett in place of the Lincoln, according to information from U.S. Rep. Norm Dicks, D-Belfair.

For a brief period in 2011 and 2012, the Puget Sound area will host three aircraft carriers: the Lincoln, the Nimitz and the USS John C. Stennis. The Bremerton-based Stennis pulled into Everett on Monday afternoon on a brief stop as its crew wraps up a six-month deployment.

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D- Everett, said the Navy hasn’t confirmed a decision about which ship will replace the Lincoln, but he remains committed to keeping a nuclear-powered carrier in Everett and possibly adding other ships in the future.

“I hope folks understand the Lincoln has to leave,” he said. “This is the same thing that happens with every carrier in the U.S. naval fleet.”

This is the first time a carrier based in Everett has hit that point in its 50-year life cycle. The Lincoln entered service in 1989. Everett’s relationship with the ship began in 1997, just three years after the opening of Naval Station Everett.

The base is more important than any individual ships assigned to it, Larsen said.

“If you don’t have that quality facility, you don’t have the opportunity to have the Lincoln or any other ships based here,” he said.

But the Lincoln has been at the center of some of Everett’s most important modern events, Everett spokeswoman Kate Reardon said.

“The Lincoln was the first warship home from the Iraq war, and when it returned, the community came out in droves of 30,000 people,” she said.

A huge crowd, waving countless yellow pompoms, surged toward the sailors, she said.

“That’s not something you see every day,” she said.

The homecoming after that historic 290-day deployment cemented the ship as part of Everett’s identity, said Kris Krischano, a former president of Everett’s Navy League who worked to bring an aircraft carrier to the base when it opened.

“We’re going to miss Abe. She has become a close friend, significant economic stimulus, symbol of security and national strength, as pleasing to the eye as Mount Rainier, Mount Baker, the Cascades and the Olympics,” he said. “She is an Everett icon that will endure forever.”

The Lincoln also is as much a part of this community’s identity as the Everett Silvertips. In fact, the Silvertips’ mascot is a bear named for the Lincoln. He boasts a “72,” the ship’s hull number, on his hockey jersey.

Lincoln the bear isn’t going anywhere, said Jon Rosen, the Silvertips’ director of broadcasting and public relations.

“It would be hard to imagine Everett without Lincoln,” he said — either the ship or the bear.

The ship’s time away means Everett can show off its hosting skills to another major player in the U.S. Navy, Mayor Ray Stephanson said. If all goes according to plan — Stephanson’s plan, that is — the Lincoln and the Nimitz will one day share Naval Station Everett.

“The best of all words beyond this refueling cycle is that we have two aircraft carriers here,” he said.

It is unclear when the Lincoln would return to Everett — if ever. The Nimitz was based in Bremerton until its refueling in 1998, after which it moved to Naval Air Station North Island near San Diego, Calif.

The Lincoln now is undergoing extended maintenance at Bremerton’s shipyard. Following their time in the shipyard, the crew of about 3,000 will begin a series of sea trials and training leading up to their next deployment, expected to be in the fall of 2010.

If it observes the standard cycle, the Lincoln would be scheduled to begin another deployment in 2012 or 2013 and likely would relocate to East Coast after that.

Elaine Helm: 425-339-3433, [URL]ehelm@heraldnet.com[/URL]

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