WASHINGTON – In a year when the focus is on slashing federal spending, Maine lawmakers say that it’s welcome news that the Navy wants to spend $100 million next year on upgrades at the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard in Kittery.

But there’s a long way to go before the first dollar of that $100 million is actually spent to help upgrade the shipyard, which employs 4,500 civilian workers and 100 military personnel, and primarily focuses on overhauling and repairing nuclear-powered submarines.

The Obama administration’s 2012 budget request calls for spending $100 million on improvements at the shipyard.

But Republicans and Democrats in Congress are still trying to agree on a final budget for the remaining months of the 2011 fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30 — including how much to cut from current spending levels.

When lawmakers turn their attention to 2012 spending, it is a safe bet that much of the White House’s budget request — including Defense Department requests — will be changed.

So while the Navy has declared Portsmouth upgrades a budget priority for 2012, “it is too premature to discuss the specifics of any potential future energy projects at the shipyard,” said Lt. Courtney L. Hillson, a Navy spokeswoman.

“This list is still under review by the Navy and will be subject to fact-of-life and prioritization changes” as Congress finalizes the 2011 and 2012 budgets, Hillson said.

Nonetheless, Maine lawmakers have been applauding the Navy’s decision to include the spending as a priority for next year.

First District U.S. Rep. Chellie Pingree, a member of the House Armed Services Committee, said earlier this month that the money would help the shipyard maintain its “world-class reputation for top quality work.”

Pingree said plans for the money include spending $42 million to renovate a waterfront support facility and $41 million on energy and structural repairs.

GOP Sens. Susan Collins, who is on the Senate’s Armed Services and Appropriations committees, and Olympia Snowe, a member of the Finance Committee, also said it is a victory to have the Navy declare its intent to spend the money.

The Maine senators noted in a joint statement with the senators from New Hampshire, Democrat Jeanne Shaheen and Republican Kelly Ayotte, that the actual amount of facility improvements needed at Portsmouth totals $513 million.

“This announcement represents an important commitment by the Navy to the future of the Kittery-Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, and I am pleased by this response to our efforts to encourage such investments in the long-term health of the yard’s facilities,” Snowe said.

Said Collins: “This will improve the safety and efficiency of the terrific work force that keeps our nation’s nuclear submarines ready for sea every day.”

Washington Bureau Chief Jonathan Riskind can be contacted at 791-6280 or at:

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