The news that the U.S. Navy does not plan to return the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz to Naval Station Everett next year, as was anticipated, is disappointing and frustrating to officials and others in the city, county and outlying communities.
There’s more here than some loss of prestige as serving as the home port for a carrier, though that has been a point of pride during the nearly 25 years that the naval base has been in operation on Port Gardner. Everett eagerly adopted first the USS Lincoln, then later the Nimitz, welcoming sailors and families but also celebrating those ships, for example naming the mascot of the Silvertips hockey team, Lincoln — who wears the number 72 on his jersey — after his namesake ship.
But certainly there’s also an economic boost to Everett and neighboring cities in serving a carrier’s more than 3,000 sailors and thousands more family members.
The decision, part of a planning document not publicly released, was shared in a letter from the Secretary of the Navy to U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, whose 2nd Congressional District includes Naval Base Everett as well as Naval Air Station Whidbey Island in Oak Harbor.
Responding to a letter from Larsen earlier in the month, Secretary Richard Spencer, said the decision had been made for the Nimitz to remain in Bremerton rather than return to Everett in 2019 following maintenance as was the intention announced by the previous administration’s Navy secretary.
The decision to leave the Nimitz in Bremerton, Spencer said, was made to “maintain efficiencies and minimize impact to personnel,” an explanation the Navy used in 2015 when it delayed the Nimitz’s initial return in 2016 because of planned maintenance and a desire not to make a third homeport change in four years that would uproot families.
Naval Station Everett, said Spencer in his letter to Larsen, “remains an important part of the Navy’s long-term planning and we are committed to its continued use.”
Even so, Larsen, in a statement Friday, considered the decision to have broken a commitment to the community, and extended an invitation to Spencer to come to Everett and explain the decision to the community.
While such plans are subject to change because of national security needs — and the current civilian head of the Navy isn’t bound by the previous administration’s promises — Spencer should take up Larsen on his invitation to return to the Puget Sound and meet with community members.
Even without a carrier, Naval Station Everett — where some 3,000 sailors are stationed — remains a thriving base, home to six guided missile destroyers: the Shoup, Momsen, Kidd, Gridley, Sampson and Ralph Johnson, three of which are recent arrivals.
Last fall, during a visit to the Puget Sound region, Spencer told the Kitsap Sun that the Navy plans a fleet of some 355 ships, with 11 to 12 carriers. At that time, Spencer made no announcement of where carriers might be based, but did tell the Sun that additional destroyers could be homeported at Everett.
Just as the Navy must evaluate its need as it makes its plans, the communities that host its naval stations and their crews and families need to make their own plans to meet the needs of the Navy and current residents. What information the Navy can provide to Everett and the homes of its other Puget Sound stations is necessary in making those plans.
If there’s an upside to the news a carrier isn’t likey to be homeported in Everett for the time being, this provides the city and surrounding communities more time to make necessary improvements to roads and highways and other infrastructure, build more schools and strengthen city and county finances.
The Nimitz, now 43 years into its expected 50-year service life, is due to be replaced with the next generation of aircraft carriers, as will in turn the other Nimitz-class carriers that followed it. Work continues to iron out kinks on the Gerald R. Ford, the next generation of carriers. The John F. Kennedy and the Enterprise — which would replace the Nimitz and the Dwight D. Eisenhower, respectively — now are under construction, with the Kennedy scheduled to be launched next year and commissioned in 2024.
If not the Nimitz, Everett has just the place for the Kennedy when it’s ready.