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Honolulu Advertiser July 15, 2005

Insider thinks shipyard will stay

By Sean Hao and Dennis Camire

If Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard is added Tuesday to the list of military installations that could close, odds are Hawai'i would hold on to it in the long run, according to a former member of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission.

Local officials hope the Pentagon next week will persuade current commission members to keep Pearl and its 5,000 jobs off their list because of the shipyard's strategic value.

But considering the shipyard for closure is a way for the panel to gather more information, and typically bases that are added by the BRAC commission survive, said Jeremiah J. Gertler, a military analyst who worked for BRAC during the 1995 round of closures and mergers.

"Normally, no, the base that is added is not the one closed," he said. "It has happened, but it is the exception."

Gertler said bases often are added for the sake of comparison. "They usually find out that the (Pentagon) did its numbers right the first time," he said. "They are officially asking for data so the commission can understand that there was a reason for the recommendation and that it wasn't somebody who just didn't like Portsmouth putting them on the list.

"The only way they can investigate the data behind the recommendation is to list Pearl Harbor," Gertler said.

The shipyard was spared from the Pentagon's list of recommendations a few weeks ago. However, BRAC is charged with creating a final list of installations to close or reconfigure, and it has asked for more information about the Pentagon's recommendation to keep the Pearl shipyard open and close Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery, Maine.

In light of that development, it shouldn't be a surprise if Pearl is added, said John Pike, director of GlobalSecurity.org, a defense and security Web site. "I think that's plausible, yes," he said.

Hawai'i's congressional delegation, Gov. Linda Lingle, Mayor Mufi Hannemann and leaders of the business community through the Chamber of Commerce of Hawai'i plan to lobby for the shipyard in Washington, D.C., next week.

Chamber President Jim Tollefson would not discuss details of the strategy being developed by local officials in the fight to keep Pearl open, citing competitive reasons as Portsmouth also lobbies to keep its shipyard.

"Our focus has been military value," Tollefson said. "We strongly believe that we can argue that Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard has the strongest military value."

Tollefson acknowledged that Hawai'i may need to prepare for a long fight if on Tuesday BRAC adds Pearl to the list of possible closures.

"I think we have to be prepared for that and we are," he said.

Although the closure of Pearl would have serious economic impact that includes the loss of jobs, using that argument won't work as part of the strategy to convince government officials to keep it open.

"That's not going to get you the time of day because that's just saying you're entitled to free government money," Pike said.

Rather, the focus should be Pearl Harbor's military capability.

"I think basically it would be to reiterate what the (Department of Defense) found compelling when it decided to close Portsmouth" rather than Pearl, Pike added. At "Pearl Harbor there's a lot of other Navy installations that you can spread your costs over," unlike Portsmouth, Pike said.

The shutdown of Hawai'i's naval shipyard could cost the state about 5,000 jobs at Pearl and an additional 4,550 jobs that depend on the shipyard, according to a draft report released this week by economic development agency Enterprise Honolulu. The group concluded that no existing local industries would be able to provide similar jobs for the shipyard's highly skilled workers.

That economic impact could be roughly comparable to the aftereffects of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, which took a toll on Hawai'i's tourism industry, said Paul Brewbaker, Bank of Hawaii chief economist.

"If it's 10,000 jobs, then 9/11 is your benchmark for O'ahu," he said. "It's clearly like 9/11 and it should be noted that after 9/11 the impact was reversed within 12 months."

However, Brewbaker said that gauging the economic impact of such a significant event is no simple task. Though it could be difficult for skilled shipyard workers to find comparable jobs, Enterprise Honolulu's analysis doesn't take into account Hawai'i's low unemployment rate and strong economy. It's also possible jobs could be created should Pearl be shifted to another use, Brewbaker said.


Copyright 2005, The Honolulu Advertiser, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.