Fleet Weeks a casualty of federal sequester

Fri Apr 12, 2013 3:38pm EDT
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By Atossa Araxia Abrahamian

NEW YORK (Reuters) - The ships won't be coming in this year.

Six cities, from New York to San Diego, are bracing for cuts or outright cancellations of their annual Fleet Weeks, spring and summer events when the Navy opens its ships to tours for the general public and crowds of sailors pour into local bars and restaurants.

The events are a casualty of the sequester -- $85 billion in cuts to the federal budget that began to kick in on March 1, threatening temporary layoffs for hundreds of thousands of workers and causing the Defense Department to pull the funds that would have allowed aircraft carriers, submarines and other vessels to participate in the events.

"No branch of armed forces can participate in community relations or outreach events that come at an additional cost to the government or rely on anything other than local assets or personnel," said Beth Baker, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Navy's mid-Atlantic region. "This is not a decision that was made lightly, and this is one of many steps the Navy is taking to make sure we use resources to support our armed forces."

New York Fleet week, which takes place in mid-May, will not be receiving the thousands of sailors it typically welcomes, but the city says it is working with the Navy to provide locally funded alternatives.

"Fleet Week has been a great event for the city, and we will continue working closely with the Navy to explore how we can continue to celebrate the commitment of our servicemen and women," Evelyn Erskine, a spokeswoman from the mayor's office, said.

The cuts will be a blow to the local economy. While the Navy estimates it will save $7 million to $10 million by not participating in the event, the New York City Economic Development Corporation estimates local businesses will lose about $20 million in revenue as restaurants, bars and nightclubs miss out on business from both visiting sailors and landlubbers.

"It's sad for (the sailors) that they're not coming in to enjoy themselves," said Sinead Dull, manager of the Half King, a bar on Manhattan's West Side a few blocks from where the ships dock on the Hudson River.   Continued...

A military parade of ships makes its way up the Hudson River past the Statue of Liberty during the start of Fleet Week in New York May 23, 2012. REUTERS/Shannon Stapleton