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National and economic security: Maine, NH delegations tout shipyard as Navy head visits

KITTERY, Maine - The six lawmakers who represent southern Maine and the Seacoast of New Hampshire in Congress voiced commitments Tuesday to advocate for the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

In addition to providing an economic engine for the area, the shipyard is a vital piece of defense infrastructure that deserves continued investment, they said, as the administration of President Joe Biden settles in.

"We all understand how important the shipyard is both to our national security and to the Seacoast of both Maine and New Hampshire," Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-NH, said in an interview.

Although members of Congress have yet to see what priorities the Biden administration will include in its Fiscal Year 2022 budget proposal, there is no known threat to PNSY funding, and there are no known discussions of a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) that could threaten the installation, Shaheen said.

Tuesday's events and discussions were focused instead, she said, on the investments and innovation happening at the shipyard - accomplishments touted not only by Shaheen, but also by Sens. Maggie Hassan, D-NH, Susan Collins, R-ME, and Angus King, I-ME, as well as Reps. Chris Pappas, D-NH, and Chellie Pingree, D-ME.

"The Shipyard's workforce, who are second to none, are implementing critical, innovative changes to modernize their operations, and these innovations will result in practices that the rest of the government can emulate," Hassan said in a statement.

"I will keep pushing to secure federal resources to strengthen the Shipyard's infrastructure and improve its operations, while also ensuring that its unmatched workforce has the support it needs to complete its vital mission," she added.

The comments from the four senators and two representatives came as they hosted a visit from Acting U.S. Secretary of the Navy Thomas Harker, who toured the shipyard facilities; watched maintenance work being performed on the USS Texas, a submarine that arrived at the shipyard last fall; and received a progress report on the $158 million Dry Dock #1 modernization project, according to a joint statement from the Maine delegation.

Harker assumed the duties of acting secretary when the Biden administration took office Jan. 20. Biden has not named a nominee for the full-time Navy secretary role.

"I'm thrilled to see the unified effort at the shipyard to deliver on time and on budget for the Navy," Harker said while meeting with members of the Texas project team to discuss the maintenance availability, according to a statement from the shipyard congressional and public affairs office. "The commitment across the board to innovate and seek opportunities to improve our depot level maintenance is critical to the readiness of the fleet."

Shipyard Commander Capt. Daniel Ettlich thanked Harker and the congressional delegations for their support of PNSY and the Seacoast community.

"The next chapter of Portsmouth’s history is unfolding before us, and I am proud of the infrastructure improvements and ongoing innovation to support our people in their unyielding efforts to provide first-time quality to our customer on schedule and deliver a more capable, lethal and better-connected submarine fleet," Ettlich said.

Harker's visit to PNSY in Kittery followed a stop earlier Tuesday at Bath Iron Works, where he and the Maine delegation participated in a keel laying ceremony for the USS Harvey C. Barnum Jr., a ship named after retired U.S. Marine Corps Col. Harvey "Barney" Barnum Jr.

Barnum was awarded the Medal of Honor for his bravery during the Vietnam War. He and his wife participated in the ceremony, which marks the start of construction and harkens to the days of sailing vessels when construction began with a keel upon which the ship is built.

Collins, King and Pingree joined in the events at the shipbuilder that included a tour of a fabrication center and a training center for new employees.

Collins praised workers at both facilities who toiled away throughout the pandemic because the military work was deemed essential.

"Despite the challenges of the past year, the hardworking employees at BIW and PNSY continued to answer the nation's call to keep our Navy strong and ensure our brave sailors and submariners are able to defend our nation and return home safely," Collins said in a statement.

"As a senior member of the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I look forward to working with the Navy to continue to invest in the workforce and facilities at BIW and PNSY as well as increase the size of our Navy fleet," she added.

King said the visits to BIW and PNSY "highlighted the skill and dedication of Maine's shipbuilders."

"I’m grateful for the Acting Secretary’s visit, and I am committed to working with him and the Administration to strengthen our national defense and maximize the talents of our shipbuilders," he said.

Pingree, whose district includes both Bath and Kittery, said the state's shipbuilders should be celebrated for their "world-class work."

"As a Mainer, I’m proud to represent the shipbuilders at Bath Iron Works and Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and I look forward to continuing advocating on their behalf in Washington," she said.

As the Biden administration carries out its likely review of the national defense strategy and budget priorities, the entire Maine delegation cosigned a letter last month with the entire Mississippi delegation, urging the defense secretary and deputy secretary to support the larger Navy fleet that Congress and independent reviews have said the nation needs.

"In the era of great-power competition," they wrote, "a stronger U.S. Navy capable of projecting power around the world is necessary to ensure America’s national and economic security during peacetime as well as to defeat our adversaries should deterrence fail."