The battle to determine whether Newport News or Philadelphia will be the site of a multi-million dollar overhaul of the aircraft carrier Saratoga moved to federal court in Alexandria yesterday.
Rep. Paul Trible (R-Va., ) asked the U.S District Court there to prevent the Navy from beginning work on the Saratoga until mid-May. By that time, Trible is hopeful Congress will direct the Navy to award the contract to the privately-owned Newport News Shipbuilding and Drydock Co. in his eastern Virginia congressional district.
It is not uncommon for a member of Congress to file a lawsuit. As many as a dozen suits have been pending at one time in area courts on such topics as abortion, legislative vetos, privileges of convicted members and the Panama Canal. But Trible's action is unusual in that he will act as his own attorney, and the Defense Department may be represented by Navy Secretary Graham Claytar, who is also a lawyer..
Trible's motion for a temporary restraining order to be heard Thursday in the court came one day after Virginia's two senators convinced the Senate Armed Services Committee to order that the ship work be performed on a least-cost basis. A study by the General Accounting Office last year dound that the Saratoga could be rehabilitated at Newport News for about $100 million less than it could at the government-owned Philadelphia Navy Yard.
The Carter administration is trying to get the work done in philadelphia to fulfill a campaign promise by President Carter to provide jobs at a military base there. The Virginal congressional delegation contends that the work can be done more cheaply in the Newport News yard, the state's largest private employer, because it already has the required facilities, while the Philadelphia yard would have to expand to perform the work.
The Saratoga is the first of four, and possibly eight, aircraft carriers scheduled for rehabilitation under the Navy's Service Life Extension Program (SLEP). Trible said each of the overhaul contracts would provide 2,600 jobs for a 28-month period.
Some Virginia politicans have expressed concern that a strike by the United Steelworkers at the Newport News yard in its 56th day yesterday, could hamper efforts to win the Saratoga contract. Gov. John N. Dalton yesterday removed the remaining contingent of state police from the city of Newport News, saying they were no longer needed to protect the rights of workers crossing picket lines to reach the yard.
Newport News Shipbuilding officials have said they have been able to continue work at the yard despite the strike and recently began hiring replacements for the strikers.