Tremors at Maine Defense Sites
Pentagon cuts could weigh heavy Down East; defense is state's second largest moneymaker. PREPARING FOR TRANSITION
WICASSET, MAINE — IN few places in the United States is the turmoil in Eastern Europe and its effect on US defense budget producing more severe tremors than in a state that thinks of itself, and is thought of elsewhere, as ``vacationland.'' From its idyllic coast to its northern forests, the Maine economy depends on one defense dollar for every two dollars it earns from its largest industry, tourism.
The construction of Aegis cruisers and destroyers for the US Navy at at the Bath Iron Works (BIW) shipyard brings an annual payroll of $251 million to the state. Some 10,000 blue- and white-collar workers are employed in Bath and 1,000 more at another BIW facility in Portland.
Despite major management efforts to obtain commercial contracts, BIW's work for several years past and as far into the future as funds extend is exclusively military. Not one commercial oceangoing merchant ship is being built or contracted for anywhere in the United States.
At its southern extremity, the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, named for Portsmouth, N.H., but actually in Kittery, Maine, employs 8,500 civilians, of whom about half live in Maine.
Nearby, Brunswick Naval Air Station, home to long-range antisubmarine patrol bombers, employs 891 civilians. Together with 3,469 Navy men and women and some 2,250 military retirees, attracted to the area by the base's economic and social support structures, that represents an annual combined salary of more than $118 million for a city with an annual budget of $24 million.
Only a few minutes farther along US Highway 1 is the centerpiece of Maine's industrial work force, the BIW shipyard along the Kennebec River.
Maine is by no means the only state affected by likely reductions in defense-related business. But its role in building and repairing Navy ships could be affected dramatically if the number of active aircraft carrier groups and battleship surface action groups is reduced.
``How important BIW and the other defense bases are to us,'' says Jim Thompson, spokesman for the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development, ``can be seen from the fact that there are only six employers in the state with a payroll over 1,000.''
Neither midcoast nor southern Maine is so dependent on defense dollars, however, as is the vast Aroostook County abutting the Canadian border in the north.
Placed there in the 1950s because it is the nearest piece of US real estate to Moscow and other potential Soviet targets, Loring Air Force Base lost its nuclear mission several years ago to intercontinental ballistic missiles and to bomber bases farther from the threat of submarine-launched missiles. In tribute in no small part to the rising influence in the Republican Party of Aroostook County's congresswoman, Rep. Olympia Snowe, Loring has survived due to a change of mission that oriented its B-52 bombers and supporting tankers to a North Atlantic sea-control mission.
Despite the fact that its small but influential congressional delegation is ideally positioned to defend Maine's defense interests, a majority of Maine voters recently repudiated a weapons system that is becoming the centerpiece of all of the Maine military installations.
That vote, nonbinding on federal authorities, opposed continued Navy testing of its land-attack Tomahawk cruise missile. The acrimonious campaign that preceded the vote revealed the dichotomy in a society that would prefer peaceful pursuits but finds itself deeply involved in military issues and supporting a huge defense budget. All the ships being built in Maine carry Tomahawk missiles.
Whether in the submarines under repair at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, under the decks of the cruisers and destroyers being built at Bath and Portland, and very possibly in the future under the wings of the Navy patrol bombers at Brunswick and the Air Force B-52s at Loring, the future of such cruise missiles as the Tomahawk is central to the developing strategic debate.
On one side are those who see conventionally armed cruise missiles as a relatively low-cost deterrent to any Soviet backsliding. They say banning it would return the United States to its 1950s stance of total reliance on nuclear ``massive retaliation.''
On the other side, persuasive to a large group of Maine voters in November, is the argument that because it is virtually impossible to distinguish between nuclear and conventionally armed cruise missiles, all should be banned.