Destroyers docked at Naval Station Everett on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Destroyers docked at Naval Station Everett on Tuesday, Jan. 15, 2019 in Everett, Wa. (Andy Bronson / The Herald)

Editorial: As ‘Sailors’ Choice,’ Everett should be Navy’s choice

A report faults the decision not to base a carrier at Naval Station Everett as originally intended.

By The Herald Editorial Board

Naval Station Everett, now past the quarter-century mark, was designed and built to provide a homeport to a U.S. Navy aircraft carrier and other ships. And in its history here, Everett and Snohomish County have been home to the USS Abraham Lincoln and the USS Nimitz, their crews and their families.

But since the Nimitz shipped out in 2015 for scheduled maintenance at the Bremerton shipyards, the carrier did not return in 2019 as originally promised; the Navy, citing the expense and disruption to crews and families of returning the carrier to Everett, kept it in Bremerton and made no announcement of when Everett could expect the Nimitz or any other carrier.

The problem isn’t in making a case that the U.S. Navy and Trump administration should use Naval Station Everett as a homeport for an aircraft carrier and additional ships above the five guided-missile destroyers now based here.

No, the difficulty now is in knowing who to make the case to and finding administration officials who will listen.

The reasons for a carrier in Everett — or a significant increase in the homeporting of other ships here — are numerous, and were recently relayed in a report from U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Washington, the 2nd Congressional District Democrat, who is a senior member of the House Armed Services Committee and serves on its subcommittees for strategic forces and emerging threats and capabilities.

Dubbing Everett as “The Sailors’ Choice,” the report outlines the advantages that the Everett base — the most modern in the nation — offers strategically to the nation and in the interests of ships’ crews and families. Among them:

Location: Boasting a natural deep-water port that doesn’t require dredging, Everett’s location poses no obstructions for naval ships between it and open ocean and is that much closer to the Pacific than Bremerton or Seattle. And the port’s location near major interstate highways, rail lines and ferry routes and the North Puget Sound Manufacturing Corridor is a plus for moving personnel and supplies and offers a heavy concentration of high-tech manufacturing facilities and skilled workers.

Familiarity: In addition to having been the homeport for carriers, it has also been home to the Navy’s guided-missile frigates, and could easily host an increase in those ships planned by both the Navy and Marines Corps.

Capability: While Vigor Marine halted its shipyard work at the Port of Everett in 2015, efforts are well underway to return a shipyard — which could perform maintenance on Navy and U.S. Coast Guard vessels — within a horn’s blast of the Navy base. Port officials authorized a $33 million agreement to purchase the former Kimberly-Clark paper mill that has been vacant for more than seven years. As part of the property’s redevelopment, the Port has won a federal Department of Transportation grant for $15.5 million for environmental cleanup and infrastructure work. And it is partnering with Nichols Bros. Boat Builders to open the Everett Ship Repair yard with a 500-foot-long drydock able to work on military and commercial vessels.

Crews and families: With a supportive community with good schools and colleges and job opportunities for spouses, Larsen’s report notes, the Navy’s own past surveys of Everett and Snohomish County showed no drawbacks for the crew and family quality of life between the bases in Everett or Bremerton.

Larsen’s report is key to reconsideration of the Navy’s 2018 strategic plan for homeporting of vessels. A provision that Larsen included in the National Defense Authorization Act last month requires the U.S. Comptroller General, which heads the General Accountability Office, to submit a report to the House Armed Services Committee on recent changes to the Navy’s plans for selecting West Coast homeports for aircraft carriers.

“When removing the carrier mission from (Naval Station) Everett, the Navy failed to account for the value of dispersing the fleet, did not include deployability in its analysis, and under-resources a new and efficient installation,” Larsen wrote in the report. “The Navy is making a bad decision.”

But making these points before Navy brass and Trump administration officials is a tougher course to plot, especially following President Trump’s dismissal of Secretary of the Navy Richard Spencer, over the trial and discipline of a U.S. Navy SEAL charged with multiple war crimes but convicted of a lesser count.

Trump has announced his nominee for the position: Kenneth Braithwaite, a retired Navy rear admiral, a Trump campaign official in 2016 and currently the ambassador to Norway.

At a minimum, Spencer’s departure has preempted a meeting that Everett Mayor Cassie Franklin had scheduled for later this month with the secretary’s office. When Braithwaite might be confirmed by the Senate hasn’t been announced.

But Franklin shares Larsen’s frustration with decisions that appear to ignore the facts of Everett’s advantages.

“The administration has made it clear that they are not focused on the strategic nature of this port or ‘speed to sea’ or the defense of the country; they’re focused on the bottom line,” Franklin told the editorial board before the end of the year.

Bottom lines should matter, but not at the expense of national defense or in consideration of the interests of Navy sailors, officers and their families.

Franklin does take encouragement locally, in particular from Naval Station Everett’s commanding officer, Capt. Mike Davis, who during his first State of the Station address in April, saw opportunities to increase the number of ships that the base serves as the Navy builds its fleet to more than 350 vessels by 2050.

State and local officials, community members and support organizations lobbied for years to see Naval Station Everett built as the homeport for an aircraft carrier and other naval vessels. With no slight intended to the destroyers Momsen, Kidd, Gridley, Sampson and Ralph Johnson and their crews already here, Everett is ready to be the homeport for others.

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