Could carrier dismantling be the next big project on Mobile’s waterfront?

Alabama News

Mobile is being considered by the Navy to dimantle the nuclear powered USS Enterprise

MOBILE, Ala. (WKRG) — Thousands of people work along the Mobile River, putting together ships for the U.S. Navy. Soon, hundreds, or even thousands, could be working along the Mobile River tearing apart Navy ships.

The Navy is considering partnering with private industry to dismantle the aircraft carrier USS Enterprise. It’s a minimum $1 billion job that will take several years to complete. Mobile is one of three ports being considered for the job.

The Enterprise is America’s first nuclear powered aircraft carrier.

“In my 22 years, we’ve done nothing nuclear or radioactive,” said Mobile Baykeeper’s Executive Director Casi Callaway.

The Navy met with Callaway earlier this summer to present details of the project. She says at this point she’s only cautiously concerned.

“The number one reason I’m not freaked out is that the nuclear power cells are not coming to Mobile Bay,” she said.

While the nuclear fuel has been stripped, Callaway says the Enterprise’s reactors remain and there are low levels of radioactivity on board. Her bigger concern could be other elements present.

“The ship was built in 1958,” Callaway said. “There could absolutely be lead paint associated with the ship, there could be asbestos, mercury, other heavy metals.”

Callaway says, for now, the environmental concerns appear small for a project that could be huge for the local economy.

The Enterprise was officially decommissioned in 2017. It’s been sitting for several years in Newport News, Virginia, waiting to be taken apart.

It’s estimated it will cost the Navy $1.5 billion to dismantle the ship itself at a facility near Seattle. But the military thinks it could save money by partnering with private industry to do the job. The Navy is currently looking at three possible ports to do that: Brownville, Texas, Newport News, and Mobile.

“They’re certainly trying to determine through their process if the ports can handle a ship like this. We know our port can,” said David Rodgers of the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce.

He says a combination of new and existing facilities could be used and a number of businesses and industries could benefit.

“Companies around the Mobile area will be able to bid on the actual decommissioning of this project,” Rodgers said.

Rodgers says it would likely take several hundred workers five years to take apart the Enterprise.

It’s not just the Enterprise, however, that Mobile economic developers are eying. 

The nuclear-powered USS Nimitz is set to retire within the next 10 years, and there are 10 carriers in the class that will age out every four or five years, for the next 40 years.

“If we can be successful for the Navy in regard to the Enterprise, our hope is that we could be successful in future contracts as well,” Rodgers said. “There certainly could be future operations of this size, decommissioning certain ships.”

Rodgers says it is potentially a half-century of work and a steady diet of jobs at Mobile’s port.

The Enterprise would certainly be noticeable on the Mobile riverfront.  It is mammoth in size, almost twice as big as the USS Alabama and almost three times longer than the Littoral Combat Ships currently being made at Austal. The Enterprise is almost 1,100 feet long, just 150 feet shorter than the Empire State Building.

The Navy has used private industry before to dismantle five aircraft carriers, but never a nuclear one. The Navy has safely disposed of other kinds of nuclear-powered ships since 1986, mostly at its Puget Sound Naval Station in Washington State.

Due to COVID-19, the Navy will not hold a public hearing in Mobile before it begins its environmental and community impact study of the area. Residents may submit questions or comments by mail. Letters must be postmarked by Friday, Sept. 11, and mailed to:

Congressional and Public Affairs Office
Puget Sound Naval Shipyard & Intermediate
Maintenance Facility
Attn: Kellie Randall, CVN 65 EIS
1400 Farragut Ave. Stop 2072
Bremerton, WA 98314-2072

Questions and comments can also be emailed. Click here for more information.

The Navy plans to make a decision on where and how to dismantle the Enterprise by fall 2022, with work beginning no earlier than 2024.

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