Groton — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has $29 million left of the $40 million that was set aside for improvements at the Naval Submarine Base and he's anxious to spend it.
"Quite frankly, if you could get something going next week I'd come and break ground for it," Malloy said Thursday at a ribbon-cutting ceremony for a new pier at the base.
"They can't build fast enough for me to invest," Malloy said in an interview afterward. The Pentagon is once again seeking congressional approval to close bases.
Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman visited the submarine base Thursday to help officially open the modernized pier and a new culinary training center. The Navy spent $36 million to double the width of Pier 31 to 65 feet so work can be performed on the submarines on both sides of the pier. The state paid for the culinary center.
Frightened by the base nearly closing during the 2005 Defense Base Closure and Realignment process, the state legislature authorized $40 million in 2007 to fix one of the Pentagon's main issues with the installation, its aging infrastructure.
Capt. Marc W. Denno, base commander, said Thursday that the novel culinary training center would not have been possible without the money from the state. The space would most likely have been used for storage, he added.
"In today's federal budget, if it's not a pier or a hangar, it's not making it above the cut line," Denno said in an interview.
He said the center, a full-size replica of a Virginia-class submarine galley for training culinary specialists, will increase the military value of the base. While Denno said he didn't know "what a future BRAC score sheet will look like," the center is the "right thing for the state, the sailors and the Navy, so it can't be bad."
The Pentagon is calling for two new rounds of base closures, in 2013 and again in 2015. The prognosis that a BRAC will happen in 2013 is "extremely poor," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney said Thursday, because influential members of Congress have promised not to let the plan move forward.
But the secretary of defense has said he will try again next year, Courtney, D-2nd District, added.
"Clearly we have got to stay on this," he said.
Connecticut became the first state to fully fund a construction project on a base in 2009 when then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell gave Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus $7.65 million to upgrade the facility for Navy divers and replace aging boilers at the power plant.
The state allocated $3.22 million in 2010 to convert a portion of the galley for the culinary training center and build an addition to an existing building to house a new submarine bridge trainer. Two projects to help local municipalities buy land around the base so development will not encroach on the base's operations are slated for a future state Bond Commission agenda.
The base is home to 15 fast-attack submarines, more than 70 commands and roughly 22,000 active-duty service members, civilian workers and their families. Maintaining an undeveloped buffer is a high priority for the Navy, Denno said.
"As populations grow surrounding bases, we have to be mindful of the fact that we need to maintain our security, access and safety of the general population," he said. "These are forward-thinking projects that will do that."
Next, Denno said, he wants to target energy efficiency. Denno said he is still talking with state officials, but reducing energy costs likely will be the state's next big project to complement the Navy's investments in the base.
Construction and demolition projects worth $100 million are currently in progress, Denno said, as part of an "ongoing, dynamic, base-wide transformation." The new pier, the third to be modernized, shows the Navy's commitment to the base and its mission, he said.
Once the $40 million is spent, Malloy said, he would be open to the idea of continuing to pay for improvements.
"We have this extraordinary relationship between the state of Connecticut and this base," he said. "It's a relationship which is unmatched in any other state and we will continue to develop projects with them on an ongoing basis."