KITTERY, Maine - To open its quarterly meeting Tuesday, the president of the Seacoast Shipyard Association sent a strong message aimed at the Trump administration: "Hands off the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, please."
The statement of third generation, 40-plus year shipyarder John Joyal referred to the possibility that military construction funds already allocated to projects at the shipyard, and others around the country, may be raided to build the southern border wall. It's currently unknown which military construction projects may be impacted by the declared national emergency, but members of the New Hampshire and Maine federal delegations, both publicly and in a letter to President Trump, have defended Portsmouth Naval Shipyard and its allocated fiscal year funds, nearly $162 million, much of which is earmarked for dry dock modernization.
When Trump declared a national emergency Feb. 15, it opened up the Department of Defense's military construction budget as one of three places he could pull money from to build a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border, a promise of his presidential campaign.
U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) has led much of the charge against the reallocation of funding, and last week petitioned the secretary of the Navy on behalf of Portsmouth Naval Shipyard. Shaheen serves on the Senate committees on Armed Services and Appropriations, and helped secure the fiscal year 2019 funding that has been deemed necessary for the advancement and upkeep of the shipyard.
In 2018 the Navy created a Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Plan to address deficiencies and needs across the country’s public shipyards. It calls for a $21 billion investment over the next 20 years.
The Seacoast Shipyard Association, comprised of individuals and businesses around the region, advocates on behalf of PNSY and its future. The executive committee met Tuesday at Kittery Town Hall.
"There is a very good possibility that they may be digging into military appropriations," Joyal said of the Trump administration. "In my 42 years at the shipyard, when I read stuff like the possibility of that happening, it makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up."
Joyal said projects on the shipyard remain "in a tight bucket," and that it would be difficult to restore funding if it were to lapse.
"As chairman of this association, it gives great concern that we would be in the crosshairs for that effort," he said. "The shipyard actually needs more resources and more funding, more infrastructure upkeep."
Joyal added, "Once they start pulling threads, where is this going to stop?" He said the SSA would continue in its ongoing efforts to "keep Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as America’s crowned jewel."
Vice Chairman Mike Ralston said "it is a subject that is coming up everywhere" in Sanford, Springvale and surrounding communities, where there is a large concentration of shipyard employees.
"Even people who are relatives of shipyarders are very aware that could happen, and that there are modifications going on at the shipyard that we need to keep our shipyard viable," Ralston said.
In other news, Ralston updated the association on ongoing efforts to incubate and strengthen the shipyard’s workforce feeder tubes. The $102 million Sanford Regional Technical Center that opened this fall has become the center of much conversation when it comes to churning out the region’s tradespeople for the future.
Ralston said the adult education program in Sanford is also working to train students in welding, and may develop program standards from the technical center. The Sanford Regional Economic Growth Council "is intent on educating and reeducating people in the trades," he said.
In April, the SSA is expected to release its annual economic impact report.