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Portsmouth Naval Shipyard could lose $150M to build border wall

The Ohio-class ballistic-missile submarine USS West Virginia (SSBN 736) departs Norfolk Naval Shipyard in Portsmouth, Va., following an engineering refueling overhaul in 2013. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication 2nd Class Ernest R. Scott/Released)

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine could lose nearly $150 million for crucial facility improvement projects if President Trump is able to proceed with construction of a $3.6 billion wall on the country’s southern border.

The Department of Defense released a 21-page list of military construction projects to Congress on Monday, projects that could end up not being funded in order to pay for the president’s wall along the border with Mexico.

According to the list, which is not final, the projects at risk of not being funded include an upgrade to Dry Dock 1 at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard – improvements that would allow the shipyard to service Virginia class submarines – and an extension of the shipyard’s portal crane rail. It’s not clear from the Pentagon list exactly how much money is at risk at the shipyard, but it appears to be over $149 million.

The Pentagon document lists hundred of projects around the country and the world that are worth about $12.9 billion. Trump declared a national emergency at the Mexican border last month, invoking a law that would let him siphon military budget funds to build barriers and fulfill his 2016 campaign promise.

The Pentagon document lists all military construction projects for which Congress has approved funding, but for which the Pentagon has not yet signed a contract.

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“This attempt to circumvent Congress’s constitutional authority to direct federal spending is not only a threat to America’s longstanding principle of checks and balances, but also to our national security – because the funds for his wall would come from important, congressionally-approved military construction projects, including potentially at Maine’s own Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” Sen. Angus King of Maine said in a statement Monday night.

“Congress took the trouble of funding these priorities through an organized process based on clear need; my colleagues and I will continue to oppose diverting these funds for a project whose need is belied by the administration’s own facts and figures. Presidents don’t get to substitute their spending priorities for those of the Congress – it’s as simple as that,” King said.

Danna Eddy, a spokeswoman for the shipyard, referred all questions about the potential impact on the shipyard to the Department of Defense, but calls to the phone number Eddy provided played a recording Monday evening that said: “The mailbox you have reached cannot accept messages.”

Attempts to reach shipyard union representatives, including Richard Smith, president of the Portsmouth Federal Employees Metal Trades Council, were unsuccessful Monday evening.

The 21-page list was delivered to Congress just days after some members of Congress, including King, pressed acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan for specifics.

King, an independent, was one of the senators who grilled Shanahan during Thursday’s hearing of the Senate Armed Services Committee. King ramped up his questioning after the defense secretary told the committee that he did not know which military construction expenditures were going to be defunded to build Trump’s wall.

“You’ve had a month, I find it very hard to believe that there’s not a list. Are you testifying there’s no list, there’s no information you can give us about which of the construction projects are on the chopping block? I’m confused. I mean either projects are going to be canceled to find $3.6 billion or they’re not. I’m very concerned about this,” King said during the hearing.

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Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, also has been critical of the president’s plans to fund the border wall.

“The president’s declaration also has practical implications for the military construction appropriations process. This includes several important efforts at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Maine that are vital to the Navy conducting timely maintenance and refueling of our nation’s submarines. Shifting funding away from these projects is shortsighted and could have very real national security implications,” Collins said during a speech on the Senate floor on Feb. 28.

Maine Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-1st District, also criticized the White House’s bid to use military construction funding.

“President Trump wasn’t successful in convincing Congress that his border wall should be funded and as a result the country endured a reckless shutdown,” Pingree said in a statement Monday night. “Now he wants to take congressionally-approved funding away from military projects around the country, including work here in Maine to update facilities and build capacity at the Kittery Naval Shipyard. This is clear executive overreach, which is why my colleagues and I voted last month to overturn the president’s emergency declaration.”

Many of the people who work at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard live in New Hampshire and New Hampshire Sens. Jeanne Shaheen and Maggie Hassan, both Democrats, also have been critical of Trump’s decision to fund the southern border wall.

Last month, members of the New Hampshire delegation sent a letter to the president, expressing their opposition to reallocating funds approved for construction projects at the shipyard.

“Raiding the Department of Defense’s military construction accounts will have a devastating impact on our national security and will disrupt laid-out plans to upgrade our nation’s military infrastructure,” the letter said.

“This (Pentagon) list includes four Portsmouth Naval Shipyard projects that are important to the shipyard’s mission, to jobs in the region, and have been planned for years,” Shaheen said in a tweet Monday. “This list underscores why Congress acted on a bipartisan basis last week to block President Trump’s so-called emergency declaration.”

“Members of both parties voted to revoke President Trump’s unconstitutional emergency declaration and I won’t stop fighting to protect vital military construction projects like the ones at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard,” Hassan wrote in a Facebook post Monday.

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© 2019 the Portland Press Herald (Portland, Maine)

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.