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Pressing to develop Navy land in Maine

Congresswoman courts Air Force Cyber Command

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Associated Press / May 4, 2008

KITTERY, Maine - As the Navy explores private development of the former Portsmouth Naval Shipyard prison, US Representative Carol Shea-Porter is pushing to bring the US Air Force's Cyber Command to the long-neglected castle-like structure.

Navy officials have asked private developers to submit proposals in the next two months with a goal of signing a contract in spring 2009. But if the Air Force were to choose the shipyard for its planned Cyber Command center, a government-to-government transfer essentially would trump outside uses, Shea-Porter's staff said.

Ryan McKeon, Shea-Porter's military legislative assistant, said the congresswoman does not want to be an impediment to the private development efforts but believes the prison would be an ideal choice for the center.

"It's a win-win project," said Shea-Porter, a New Hampshire Democrat. "It's a great opportunity for the government and for Portsmouth."

The Air Force is planning to establish a Cyber Command by October to protect the military and federal government from cyber-based hackers and spies.

A number of states are vying to attract the command. In Massachusetts, state officials, the state's congressional delegation, and executives from the private sector are waging a lobbying campaign to have Hanscom Air Force Base in Bedford selected as Cyber Command headquarters.

As the Air Force gathers a list of possible sites, officials met with McKeon and other staff members from the New Hampshire congresswoman's office on Friday to begin formal talks.

The shipyard prison makes sense because it provides easy access to the former Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth, said McKeon. And the former prison itself is highly fortified.

"You couldn't take it down with explosives if you wanted to," McKeon said. "So from a security and safety perspective, no site is better in the US."

The 100-year-old prison has fallen into disrepair since it closed in 1974. Vines grow over the concrete exterior; inside, pipes are broken and the floors have buckled. The Navy tried once before to redevelop the prison and signed a lease with New Hampshire developer Joseph Sawtelle to turn it into premium office space. But that project fell through when Sawtelle died in 2000.

Shea-Porter said the command center would boost the region's economy, with the potential for "hundreds of millions, maybe even billions of dollars" from contracts to local businesses. She said she plans to work with members of the Maine and New Hampshire congressional delegations to advocate for the prison.

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