Seattle and Everett vie to become next home port for USS Nimitz

Last year's East Coast battle between New York City and Boston over who would become the home port for a major Navy unit is being repeated this month in Washington State.

The neighboring Puget Sound ports of Seattle and Everett are wooing the nuclear-powered aircraft carrier Nimitz, and (by 1990) a supporting flotilla of up to 14 destroyers, cruisers, and frigates. But when compared with the East Coast competition, the West Coast contest is decidedly more good-humored.

''We're in daily contact with Seattle,'' says Everett Mayor William Moore. ''The important thing is to keep it in Puget Sound.'' The Navy's plan, called ''strategic home porting,'' is to disperse its fleet to make it less vulnerable.

In addition, local military analysts also say that the shorter steaming time to the North Pacific, and good accessibilty to all necessary facilities, make the Northwest ideal for the aircraft carrier battle group. A decision is expected soon after Feb. 1.

Meanwhile, the two ports are engaged in a dance of offer and counteroffer. Seattle was a hesitant starter, expressing concern about the loss to the Navy of 20 percent of its waterfront property, and the greatly increased load on its traffic, housing, and electrical generating capacity.

In addition, the proposed base location, Terminal No. 91, is earmarked for handling 160,000 Japanese cars annually. A new site for the important 10-year contract with Nissan Motor Corporation would have to be found.

Everett, on the other hand, was off to a flying start, seeking to attract the Navy as an answer to the city's unstable economy. The port has seen 12 major wood-product industries close in recent years, with a loss of 2,500 jobs, and has been buffeted by the ups and downs of the aerospace industry.

''We have the infrastructure the Navy needs sitting unused in Everett,'' says Mayor Moore. ''We have 10,000 empty houses and the capacity for more electricity and water than they will need.''

Seattle's latest offer is a no-cost swap of Terminal 91 for Pier 36, now owned by the federal government and used by the US Coast Guard, and the sale of 75 adjoining acres. (Interestingly, Seattle bought Terminal 91 from the Navy in 1976, giving the federal government Pier 36 in part payment.) Seattle claims the land-swap will save the Navy at least $35 million over Everett's offer.

Everett proposes to sell or lease the Navy a site and is willing to issue tax-free bonds to finance construction of port facilities. But Washington State officials have cautioned that in either case, the region will not be able to match the sort of incentives that sweetened the Big Apple's deal last year.

Navy Secretary John Lehmann recently visited the area to encourage competition for the base. Various federal incentives could be forthcoming, including assistance for necessary municipal services. Except for an initial indication that the Pentagon could not afford early estimates from the ports, the Navy has kept the competitors in the dark, and will not comment on negotiations.

''I can only say that community support and cost are the most important factors,'' says Lt. Comdr. John Marchie, a Navy spokesman in Seattle. Community feelings were being gauged from elected officials and by ''monitoring the media.''

Local media polls claim that Everett leads in community acceptance. But even Mayor Moore concedes some negative feelings among Everett's citizens: ''Some are antimilitary, some are antinuclear, and others just want things here to stay the same.''

The Nimitz base in Puget Sound promises a payroll of at least $400 million, and additional local and state tax revenues of about $50 million a year. An estimated 15,000 people would be employed by 1991, close to half of whom would be civilians in direct or spin-off jobs. From $300 million to $500 million would be spent on port construction. In the case of Seattle, the city estimates that $ 7 million to $13 million will have to be spent on improving traffic facilities and on increasing capacity to supply the 6.5 megawatts of electricity the base will require daily.

The same report notes that the Nimitz's task force is probably nuclear capable, and this would increase Seattle's importance as a target in the event of a nuclear war. These waters are already home to the Trident ballistic-missile submarine USS Ohio, which was the subject of vehement protests when it first arrived.

The Navy has been looking for a new home port for the USS Nimitz, currently based at Norfolk, Va., for more than a year.

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