Connecticut Town Fights Submarine Base Closing

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Tony Sheridan, president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, talks about the fight to save the Naval submarine base in New London, Conn. The base is on the Defense Department's list for closure.

STEVE INSKEEP, host:

An independent commission votes this week on a Defense Department plan to close or reduce forces at hundreds of the nation's military bases. One base threatened with closure is the New London Naval Submarine Base in Groton, Connecticut. It's home to 18 attack submarines and it survived an earlier attempt to close it in the 1990s. Tony Sheridan is president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, which is fighting to keep the base open, and he joins us now. Thanks for joining us this morning.

Mr. TONY SHERIDAN (President, Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut): You're welcome.

INSKEEP: Now the Navy assumes that in the future there'll be a smaller force of attack subs. Given that assumption, why not close the base?

Mr. SHERIDAN: Because we have what no one else in the country has in eastern Connecticut. We have the manufacturer of the submarines; the best submarines in the world as everyone agrees to. They're about one mile down the river from the submarine base. There's a tremendous synergy between what's being constructed and what's going to be the end user, and that doesn't exist anywhere in the country at the moment.

INSKEEP: Now these are arguments I know that you made a decade ago--more than a decade ago.

Mr. SHERIDAN: In eastern...

INSKEEP: The last time...

Mr. SHERIDAN: Yes.

INSKEEP: ...that there was an effort to close the submarine base. How is this battle different than the last one?

Mr. SHERIDAN: It's really not all that different, quite frankly. We made a very strong argument the last time and enough reasonable people heard our position and took the base off the list. There's been some effort at the Pentagon level to claim that this is an old base. This is the most modern base that exists in the country today. It's--there's been millions of dollars spent on this base upgrading every aspect of it. So we're looking at a significant cost to the Navy and to the government, to the American taxpayer, if this base is closed. We cannot replicate what we have here elsewhere without enormous costs.

INSKEEP: If your congressional people don't get the message to the right people in Washington and persuade them, I guess all your work would be for naught.

Mr. SHERIDAN: Well, true. But we've also learned a lot. It's not--you know, we--this is a pretty wonderful part of the country. We're right between Boston and New York and on the waterfront and, you know, life will go on and it'll be a significant change. But I think the real problem here is the loss to the country. If this is closed, the country is going to--it's going to be so much more expensive to replicate. Remember, that they're going to try and completely rebuild a submarine base elsewhere, and it'll be done in parts. There will be a little bit in one community and another bit in another community. It'll devastate the submarine industry and submarine force as a critical part of our military structure.

INSKEEP: Senator Chris Dodd of Connecticut was quoted in recent days saying that he thought the base had a 50/50 chance of survival. What preparations do you make now for the possibility that you'll end up with the wrong 50?

Mr. SHERIDAN: Well, the Chamber of Commerce, through our other chambers in the state of Connecticut, have been working closely together on looking at other potential reuses, along with the governor's office. The governor has had a team working on, we say a plan B, but we're really not prepared to go there at this point. We feel reasonably confident that this decision is going to be in our favor. So I think at this point we're just not prepared to go there. But there has been some work done to help prepare should there be a negative vote.

INSKEEP: Tony Sheridan is president of the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut. Thanks very much.

Mr. SHERIDAN: Thank you.

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