The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard sits on the edge of Broad Street. Take away the gates and the guards, and it could be a block of Chestnut Hill, with old brick houses surrounded by lawns. But behind the pleasant exterior is the guts of the Naval Yard, the shipbuilding, propeller works and the maintenance areas. These are what define the Yard, what give it its life. But, soon, they may be gone. The Philadelphia Naval Shipyard and the Naval Station, which is located on the same base, were recommended for closure by the Department of Defense on Friday. The Navy Yard may be part of a nationwide cutback in defense installations which has resulted from "declining defense budgets," Defense Secretary Dick Cheney said in a statement. The list, including the recommendations to close 31 major defense facilities, will be reviewed by an independent commission headed by former Rep. James Courter of New Jersey. The commission's list will be forwarded to President Bush and then to Congress for final approval. But with 2240 military jobs and 8948 civilian jobs at Philadelphia's Yard, area politicians have been quick to openly quarrel with the recommendation and say they will fight it. A bi-partisan coalition from both sides of the Delaware River is coalescing to fight for the Yard, a natural reaction with such a large constituency in danger. After Cheney's announcement on Friday and again at a press conference just outside of the Yard on Monday, Philadelphia area Congressmen have blasted the Defense Department's decision-making process as well as the efficiency of bases in other regions that were spared. On Monday, Rep. Thomas Foglietta (D-Phila.) outlined the structure of a report, produced by his staff, that will be presented to the base review committee in defense of the yard. "The Navy gives contracts on a business-like basis," Foglietta said. "In most cases the bases come back over budget, except for the Philadelphia Naval Shipyard." Foglietta said Philadelphia's Yard is the most efficient of all naval bases in the country, decried the government for trying to shut them down and noted that the Yard was the only one in the country to end fiscal years under budget for both 1989 and 1990. "It is the only naval shipyard to make a profit in the past two years," Foglietta said. "It does the best work and the most efficient work." Jim Baldwin, president of the Pipe-fitters Union, which does most of its work at the Yard, said that he is prepared to support the base. "We're just beginning to fight," Baldwin said. "We will fight to get it off the list." Rep. Curt Weldon (R-Pa.), who also attended Monday's press conference, said the Pentagon has been misguided in its judgments. "The facts don't lie, yet the Department of the Navy has chosen to ignore this," Weldon said. "You have to ask why." Weldon suggested that decisions on base closings were politically motivated. Some of his colleagues at the press conference took a similar tone. "If you add up the layoffs in Texas, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas, Alabama, Mississippi, Lousiana and Tennessee, they do not have layoffs as high as in Philadelphia and the Northeast," said Rep. Robert Andrews (D-N.J.). "They are well connected in the South and the West. There is politicking indicated." However, Barbara Smith of Jobs with Peace said yesterday that the Congressmen are misguided in their fight to keep Navy contracts flowing to the Yard. "No one has a plan except to go on to the next level of arguing with the Navy to get a contract," Smith said. Smith said it is important to "call on players" who can organize a plan to convert the base for a substantive private sector use. Such a plan, she said, "can create jobs." "Responsibility falls on our shoulders to continue to work on the grassroots level," she added. However, the politicians' willingness to fight was well received by the union workers whose jobs have been placed in jeopardy. Many of the workers know Foglietta well, and he stopped to talk to them after they attended the press conference. Almost all of the workers said that despite their fear, they think the politicians will be able to save the Navy Yard. "I think they're going to get the job done," said Joe McCloskey, a member of the Local 1728 United Brotherhood of Carpenters and Joiners. "It's the first time I've seen Republicans and Democrats working together, and I think something is going to get done." The Congressmen seemed as confident as their constituents, repeatedly citing "facts" that demonstrate the worthiness of the Yard. "No other base in the United States of America has a better argument on merit," Foglietta said. "We have the best argument. If they take the facts and they take the arguments and if they logically accept the arguments, they will change the list." "We've got the facts on our side," said Congressman Robert Borski (D-Pa.). "We've got the workers on our side, and they're the best workers in the country." According to politicians, the closing will go beyond the short-run loss of jobs. They assert that in the middle of an economic downturn, the closing could be devistating to the region as a whole. "This would take New Jersey from a bad recession to a deeper recession," Andrews said. "In the long term, this is a serious blow to the economy." Foglietta's study reported that if the base closes, Philadelphia would lose $129.2 million in municipal tax revenues, $26 million in wage taxes and $24 million in real estate taxes. The effects of the closing may be slow in hitting the community, but they will long-lasting, according the Wharton Econometric Forecasting Associates. "It's not a loss tomorrow, not next year, but very long period of time," said Stanley Duobinis, the group's senior vice-president for regional economics. The workers in the yard also fear the economic effects. "It will mean the total collapse of the economy in the area," said George Stone, a security clerk for the Defense Department. Despite these fears, the workers and the politicians have faith in the strength of their cause. There is a feeling that in the end, the little guy will be able to stick it out. "Don't give up," Andrews said. "David beat Goliath, and we can beat the Defense Department."Comments powered by Disqus
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