KITTERY, Maine — Federal funding could be directed to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to help take its ongoing dry dock expansion project over the finish line after original cost estimates have gone up by $500 million.
A $95 billion measure being weighed by the U.S. Senate includes $3.3 billion for the nation’s public shipyards, funding that would support dry dock projects in Kittery and at Pearl Harbor Naval Shipyard. On Thursday, the U.S. Senate voted 67-32 to advance the bill — which includes billions in aid to humanitarian efforts in Gaza and other global hotspots and support for Ukraine, Israel and Taiwan — moving it to a final vote.
Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-New Hampshire, said besides supporting American allies, the bill holds importance because a portion of the Department of Defense-allocated funding would help pay for the shipyard’s dry dock project, which the Navy initially projected to be $1.7 billion.
However, according to the U.S. Government Accountability Office, in 2023 the Navy reported in a five-year plan that the cost to finish the project actually now sits at $2.2 billion.
“Making sure we finish the dry dock expansion is the most critical piece and the estimate for that project turned out to be under what the actual cost is, so we’ve needed to add funding to complete that,” Shaheen told Seacoastonline in an interview on Wednesday. “I think what’s in this bill will do that.”
The exact amount of money going to Portsmouth Naval Shipyard if the bill passes has not been determined, according to Shaheen’s office.
Shaheen says funds for shipyard are vital
The dry dock projects in Kittery and Pearl Harbor are part of the Navy’s Shipyard Infrastructure Optimization Program (SIOP), a 20-year, $21 billion effort to improve dry docks, equipment and facilities at the nation’s four public shipyards. In June, however, the U.S. Government Accountability Office stated that the “projected costs and scope” of the SIOP have grown since 2018.
“The Navy’s four public shipyards are critical to maintaining the readiness of its fleet of aircraft carriers and submarines,” the office’s study states. “However, the condition of their dry docks and facilities is poor, and their equipment is generally past its useful life. Further, the Navy reports that without improvements to shipyard infrastructure, it will be unable to support almost a third of the planned maintenance periods for aircraft carriers and submarines through 2040, hindering fleet readiness.”
In September 2021, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Carlos Del Toro called the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard “a beacon to our silent service” in a groundbreaking ceremony for the dry dock project in Kittery.
The Emergency National Security Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2024 would also assist with the country’s role in the AUKUS partnership, a trilateral agreement between the United States, Australia and the United Kingdom to elevate each other’s submarine industrial bases.
“A piece of that is to help implement our agreement with Australia and the United Kingdom to improve the capabilities for submarine warfare and nuclear warfare for Australia,” Shaheen said of the bill. “As we’re looking at how we provide balance to China and the Indo-Pacific, that agreement with Australia is really important.”
The AUKUS agreement was formally launched by the three partners in September 2021.
Shaheen spoke about the broader anticipated impacts of the national security supplemental bill, if it ultimately is greenlighted by Congress.
“The bill covers aid to Ukraine, to Israel and to the Indo-Pacific, Taiwan specifically. It also provides humanitarian assistance to help people in Ukraine and Gaza in some other parts of the world where hunger is threatening malnutrition and famine,” she said. “A piece of it also is to provide for rebuilding our stock of weapons that have been depleted because of our work with Ukraine and those dollars will go to our defense industrial base, including funding that goes to the public shipyards. As we know, that’s really important at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard to help address the (dry dock expansion project through the) infrastructure optimization program, which is getting very close to completion at this point. We need to make sure that the funding is there to finish that so we can make sure we get our nuclear subs out.”
“It’s really (all about) how important getting this emergency funding is to not just the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard Shipyard, but to support our allies who are really depending on us and who are critical to our national security, so that they know the United States is a dependable partner,” Shaheen…