Jack Sauer  /  AP file
The USS Jimmy Carter, the most heavily armed attack submarine built, is docked in Groton, Conn. The submarine base is on the Pentagon's list for closure.
By Rehema Ellis Correspondent
NBC News
updated 5/13/2005 3:50:48 PM ET 2005-05-13T19:50:48

The U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London, located in Groton, Conn., is on the Pentagon's list of proposed base closures.

As the nation's first submarine base, with an estimated $2.5 billion impact on the local economy, the surrounding community is loath to see the base go.

NBC News' Rehema Ellis reports that the base is ready to battle the proposed closure. 

What is the local reaction to the announcement that the U.S. Naval Submarine Base New London is on the Pentagon's list of proposed base closures?
The reaction has been one of disbelief.

“My heart breaks that this naval submarine base is on the Pentagon’s list for potential closure," was the reaction from Patel Muksh, the owner of the Minimart Food Store that sits on Route 12, right next to the entrance to the naval base. He has owned the store for 11 years and says that 90 percent of his business comes from people who either live on or work at the base.

“This base is the lifeblood of this community,” said Muksh.

Indeed it is. They have $450 million in annual wages that would be lost if this base closes. There are 7,096 military personnel and 412 civilian contractors who could lose their jobs.So, there are a whole host of people whose lives revolve around this base.

Therefore, they were thinking, that with all of that money and all of the personnel here, they would not be affected.

The morning newspapers here reported on how there was a lot of this anxiety, nervousness, and alarm about the fact that they could be on that Pentagon list. Now, that nervousness appears to have been well founded. But there is shock and disbelief that this base is on that list.

What was the reaction to Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s statement that the suggested closures are "irrational and irresponsible”?
Well, in just a few words, they absolutely agree with it.

Are local officials gearing up for a long fight?
Well it won’t be that long since the list has to be finalized by September.

But, they have been down this road before.

Back in 1991, 1993 and in 1995, the base operations underwent reviews. This community and the base officials have said that they have succeeded in saving this base three times before. So, they go into this with experience. They hope that they will come out on the other end as victorious as they have before.

But, they say that this is just the beginning. But that they won’t give up without a battle and the battle is on.

With the submarine base’s rich history — having been built there in 1872 as the Navy's first submarine base — it’s as important to local culture as it is to the local economy.  Does it seem almost inconceivable to locals that the base could ever disappear?    
I don’t know if anything is inconceivable, but they wonder why it is that this base has even gotten on that list. This really is the birthplace of the submarine force in the United States.

Currently if you are interested in the Navy and working on a submarine, you have to come here to train. This is the only submarine training facility in the United States. It doesn’t happen anywhere else.

So, they thought that with that in their favor, as well the rich history here, they thought that might spare them.

If the closing did happen, is there any discussion of where the 18 attack submarines they are housing would go?
That’s what the base wants to ask the Pentagon. They certainly haven’t been looking around here at this facility for where they might be able to house submarines and where they might be able to train people to work on naval submarines. The people at the naval base here are not doing that investigation.

The officials at the base are doing everything that they can from here on out to convince people that this is a critical base. Not just for the economic livelihood of this community, but for the strategic military safety of the United States and the Northeast region.

Again, they are not offering any suggestions for where else the work that is done here could be done.

So, that is the big question — where would the submarines go. They have put that question to the Pentagon and Congress three times before. In the past, Congress has said to Connecticut that the base needs to stay where it is. So, they will try to make a similar compelling argument in the coming months and hope to survive yet another round of reviews.

The fact that the governor of the state and the state's senior senator, Sen. Joseph Lieberman, had a press conference at 10 a.m. this morning shows that they are ready with a rapid response. They have been gearing up for the worst. Hoping for the best, but bracing for the worst.

In the weeks and months to come, they are going to mount a very serious offensive. They are going to do all they can to defend what has been a critical component of this area’s economic base for decades. They will not let it slip away from here easily. 

Rhema Ellis is an NBC News Correspondent.

Video: Submarine base braces for a fight


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