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Naval Base Coronado sees some rays of light amid cloudy budget future

Sequestration and the continuing resolution threaten to cut major military programs across the United States, but it’s not all doom and gloom at Naval Base Coronado.

Capt. Gary Mayes, commanding officer of Naval Base Coronado, was the keynote speaker at the monthly Armed Forces Communications and Electronics Association (AFCEA) luncheon at Hilton San Diego Mission Valley on Tuesday.

Naval Base Coronado, or NBC, is a group of eight Navy installations stretching from San Clemente Island to the Remote Training Site at Warner Springs in east San Diego County.

NBC hopes to break ground on a $40 million fitness center on Naval Air Station North Island at the end of 2013.

“Last time we built a dedicated building for athletics on North Island was 1933,” Mayes said.

The Navy currently pumps iron in a World War II warehouse-turned-gym.

“That is what we use right now,” Mayes said.

In addition, NBC's coastal campus draft environmental impact statement will come out in the fall. The academic campus will support the current and future operational readiness of personnel with the Naval Special Warfare Command (NSWC).

"Congress has mandated that a SEAL community grow, because they have done a great job," he said.

The proposed campus would include a mix of instructional and administrative facilities that would provide for indoor classroom and tactical training instruction, plus equipment use, maintenance and storage.

“This year alone we are going to see 1,200 more students go to the program,” Mayes said.

Because of the high attrition rate, it takes 1,200 people to make 300 SEALs, he explained.

“That is growth you are going to see. We are still looking at a location on NBC where we are going to put the coastal campus,” he said.

The aircraft carrier USS Ronald Reagan will sail back into San Diego next month, he confirmed.

The Navy's plan to rebalance its focus to the Pacific -- which includes Washington state, Hawaii and Japan -- will also benefit NBC.

"We will see some of that growth in San Diego," he said.

For instance, more helicopters will be at North Island.

“I have four additional helicopter squadrons coming,” he said.

That translates to roughly 800 people and 52 more helicopters at North Island. There are currently 18 squadrons and 150 helicopters there now.

“That is what is coming down the pike there,” he said.

The biggest challenge right now is funding, he admitted.

The Navy is currently operating under Continuing Resolution authority, which means it's spending at 2012 levels.

"With some of that reduced," Mayes added.

The Navy’s $39.4 billion operations budget for 2013 faces a $4.6 billion shortfall, about $3.2 billion of which is because Congress has yet to pass a 2013 spending bill. The continuing resolution expires March 27.

Some of Mayes' projects could be put on hold or impacted. All bets are off, he said, if sequestration occurs as planned on March 1.

"A lot of my projects are being delayed," he said.

One is the $76 million barracks project he wanted to build to rest more heads in Coronado.

“I have projects that are on hold at a tune of $178 million,” he said. “Sustainment, that is being delayed."

He compares the dangers of deferred maintenance to changing the oil in a car.

“Driving down the road, it’s time for an oil change. You zoom right past that. That is what we are doing,” he said.

Late last month the Navy announced that regular aircraft maintenance at North Island Naval Air Station would be reduced, resulting in $83 million in savings.

That work is performed at its Fleet Readiness Center, which employs 3,700 civilians.

“As some point, you’ve got to change that oil or I am going to repair that engine, and that is going to be costly. That is what I am doing on base right now,” he said. "That is what keeps me up at night."

Last month at the AFCEA West conference in San Diego, top Navy officials echoed that concern.

“They get it,” Mayes said. “It’s our elected officials, we need to continue to let them know and educate them.”

He cut his presentation short on Tuesday because he was racing into the drizzle to meet two congressmen to tell them about the Navy’s presence in San Diego.

Defense-related activities and spending generated $32 billion of gross regional product (GRP) for the county in fiscal year 2012, according to an impact report from San Diego Military Advisory Council (SDMAC).

The congressmen are members of the House Armed Services Committee -- one from California, another from Texas -- and are going to take a boat ride with Mayes from Point Loma to North Island.

“You better believe I am going to mention that we need help,” he said.

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