Funding for new Naval hospital drops off the priority list

Funding for a new Naval Hospital Beaufort has been delayed for several years after the hospital was bumped off a list of military projects slated to receive federal stimulus dollars this year.

"The project still has yet to be funded and, to the best of my knowledge, we may have to wait until either 2013 or 2015 before that funding comes through," said Capt. Mark Brenier, commanding officer of Naval Hospital Beaufort.

Once funding is lined up, Brenier said, the Navy is considering three possible sites for the new hospital: Marine Corps Air Station Beaufort, Laurel Bay or the hospital's existing 127-acre parcel along Ribaut Road in Port Royal.

"All three appear to be viable possibilities," he said.

The $261 million project to rebuild Naval Hospital Beaufort was on the initial list of Defense Department projects to be paid for through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, which is designed to stimulate the economy, said John Knox, deputy operations officer for Naval Facilities Engineering Command Southeast in Jacksonville. The command oversees Marine Corps and Navy construction projects in seven states, including South Carolina.

U.S. Rep Joe Wilson, a member of House Armed Services Committee, said he will fight for funding for the Naval Hospital.

"The Naval Hospital Beaufort has a strong history of providing quality care, and the benefits to our military and to the Beaufort community have been tremendous," he said. "I will continue to support and fight for any improvements that may be necessary to maintain or enhance the level of care at Naval Hospital Beaufort."Marine Corps Recruit Depot Parris Island is the only Beaufort-area base scheduled to receive stimulus dollars. The base was awarded $10 million for four projects, including $4.16 million to improve lighting and ventilation at the Douglas Visitors Center.

The federal stimulus package provided $7.4 billion to the Pentagon for construction and improvement projects at military installations across the country. South Carolina bases will receive a total of $80 million.

While the Navy mulls the future of the naval hospital, local officials continue to develop possible uses for the property, should the hospital move to a different site.

The Beaufort County Council tentatively approved an ordinance Monday designating the naval hospital property as part of a multi-county industrial park. The designation allows officials to offer tax breaks and other incentives to attract businesses to the area.