Video: Oldest shipyard faces closure

By Anchor
CNBC
updated 5/13/2005 8:53:29 PM ET 2005-05-14T00:53:29

As the morning shift begins on an island between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine, welders, technicians, even nuclear physicists arrive at "The Yards," as they call it, to help maintain the Navy's submarine fleet.

It's a 200-year-long tradition. If you don't work at "The Yards," you know someone who does, or who will, until it closes.

"The Navy has betrayed us, pure and simple," says Paul O'Connor, an electrician and union representative. "To me, it's as clear as that."

O'Connor is one of several shipyard workers — some of them, like Jann Gray, third-generation — who argue Portsmouth should be kept open because of its strong cost-efficiency.

"My whole family was brought up with shipyard dollars," says Gray, who works as a machine tool repair specialist.

"The U.S. Navy's tradition, heritage and history was founded on this island [Seavey Island] that's in back of me," says John Joyal, a welding instructor at the shipyard. "There's nobody who does it better, nobody."

But the nature of America's security threat has changed.

"Current arrangements pretty much designed for the Cold War must give way to the new demands of war against extremists," said Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld on Thursday, in advance of the base closing list announcement.

That puts not just the workersat risk, but also folks like Mark Miller, who says his Crooked Lane Cafe could take a 25 percent hit.

John Arnold remembers the lasttime the shipyard was targeted for closure, only to escape. He says this time feels different.

"I think there's a sense of urgency here that our number could be up," says Arnold, whose family owns We Care Cleaners.

American cities have dealt with closures before and survived — even flourished. But few bases are as specialized as the shipyard. The workers here are trained to do one thing — overhaul nuclear subs. Finding similar work is not easy.

Already, there's chatter about what "The Yards" might one daybecome: Retail shops or an oil refinery.

But officials here say it's not over. They, once again, plan to protest the Pentagon's recommendations.

"By September 8, when the list goes to the president, we will have made our case," says Jonathan Carter, the town manager of Kittery.

Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, Maine: Two small New England towns hoping Friday's announcement is the beginning of a tough fight, and not the beginning of the end.

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