The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was established by the United States government in 1800 and its first new product, the 74-gun ship of the line USS Washington, was launched in 1814. Today, our Navy’s oldest continuously operating public shipyard is tasked with the overhaul, repair, and modernization of America’s nuclear submarine fleet. PNSY truly has gone from the days of sail to the age of the atom.
An event there early this month demonstrates why the Shipyard’s slogan, “Proud of our past, ready for the future,” rings true. The occasion was the ribbon-cutting for a renovated structure that played a key role in the history of the 20th Century and that now will help our nation meet the challenges of the 21st.
When it opened in 1939, it was called “Building Ways,” for the sloped shipways that enabled construction and launching. During World War II, more than 70 submarines were built at PNSY, with three of those vital warships launched in a single day. Building Ways remained an important part of the arsenal of democracy into the Cold War.
Now called “Building 178,” the 170,000-square foot structure was little used in recent years primarily due to sections of roof failure caused by snow loads. The $38-million renovation unveiled on January 6th includes extensive structural repairs and modernization as well as new water, heat, and fire-protection systems. This project turned a building eligible for the National Register of Historic Places into a state-of-the-art facility that will enable the Shipyard’s employees to overhaul submarines even more efficiently.
The history that led to that celebration is worth telling, for it is a story of resolve and unity. Ten years ago, our Shipyard was threatened with closure. The people of Maine and New Hampshire reached across the border and across the political aisle to save our Shipyard, to preserve thousands of good jobs, and to help keep America secure. All of us shared the pride of the Shipyard workers when the Chairman of the Base Realignment and Closure Commission, or BRAC, described the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard as the “gold standard.”
Five years ago, my New Hampshire colleagues, Senator Jeanne Shaheen and Senator Kelley Ayotte, joined former Maine Senator Olympia Snowe and me to author a provision of the Defense Authorization Act for a plan to modernize the Shipyard. As a member at the time of both the Senate Armed Services Committee and the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, I advocated strongly for $100 million of funding for the security, modernization, and restoration that make the current round of improvements, of which Building 178 is a part, possible.
These developments represent years of hard work and effective collaboration among members of the Maine and New Hampshire delegations, Navy officials, and the outstanding men and women of PNSY who keep our submarine fleet ready for crucial national security missions.
Those men and women made the difference. During the fight to save our Shipyard a decade ago, we members of the Maine-New Hampshire delegations pointed to the Meritorious Unit Commendation that recognized their “unrelenting determination, perseverance, and steadfast devotion to duty.” Going forward, we can also point to their record-breaking work that delivered the attack submarine USS Alexandria back into service last summer ahead of schedule and under budget. The fastest complete overhaul in the Navy’s history also established new benchmarks for safety and quality control. I am so pleased that the modernization of PNSY will provide them with another workplace deserving of their dedication.
I will continue to advocate for the acceleration of military construction and facility modernization projects at the Shipyard, and across the services, as we continue to advocate for budgets that will keep our Navy strong.
From 1800 to our time, from sail to the atom, much has changed. But the threats to freedom remain, and the oceans have not gotten any smaller. I will continue to fight for a Navy that will enable America to meet every challenge. And I know the men and women of the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard will be there to make sure our submarines are ready to answer the call of duty.