March 17, 2010

Air Force eyeing Maine shipyard prison

— The Associated Press

click image to enlarge

Jack Milton/Staff Photographer, Thursday, March6, 2008: This panoramic photo made from four images, show the former Naval Prison at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, Kittery. The U.S. Navy is soliciting proposals to develop the former prison.

KITTERY — At the same time as the Navy is exploring private development of the former Portsmouth Naval Shipyard prison, U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter is pushing to bring the U.S. 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 the spring of 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 Cyber Command center.

''It's a win-win project,'' Shea-Porter, D-N.H., said Friday. ''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 or spies. As it gathers a list of possible sites, officials met with McKeon and other staffers from Shea-Porter'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 U.S.''

The 100-year-old prison has fallen into disrepair since it closed in 1974. Vines grow over the concrete exterior, and inside floors are buckled and pipes are broken. 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. That project fell through when Sawtelle died in 2000.

Shea-Porter said the Cyber Command would be a boost to 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 both Maine and New Hampshire's congressional delegations to advocate for the prison.

''I think it's one of those opportunities that come along very rarely,'' she said. ''We have something to offer this country. We expect they will share the same enthusiasm.''

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