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Duluth in running for ship commissioning

The Twin Ports may be called to stand in for the Twin Cities, when the U.S. Navy commissions a new 389-foot littoral combat ship -- the future USS Minneapolis-St. Paul.

The U.S. Navy’s newest combat vessel turns toward the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center after passing under the Aerial Lift Bridge On Oct. 23, 2003. The $531 million ship is part of the Navy’s new “littoral combat ship” program. A new littoral combat ship of the same type, the Minneapolis-St. Paul, is being built in Marinette, Wis., and efforts are under way to have the vessel commissioned in Duluth when it's completed and delivered to the U.S. Navy. (Forum News Service file photo)
A new U.S. Navy combat vessel -- part of the “littoral combat ship” program -- turns toward the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center on a visit to Duluth in late 2008. A new littoral combat ship of the same type, the Minneapolis-St. Paul, is being built in Marinette, Wis., and efforts are under way to have the vessel commissioned in Duluth when it's completed and delivered to the U.S. Navy. (News Tribune file photo)
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The Twin Ports may be called to stand in for the Twin Cities, when the U.S. Navy commissions a new 389-foot littoral combat ship - the future USS Minneapolis-St. Paul.

Navy Under Secretary Jodi Greene, a Minnesota native and the ship's sponsor, recently took part in a ceremony to mark the laying of the keel at Fincantieri Marinette Marine, the Wisconsin shipyard that's building the vessel.

It could still be a couple of years until the Minneapolis-St.Paul is ready for commissioning and the location for that event has yet to be selected, but Duluth is definitely in the running to host the new $360 million ship.

The secretary of the U.S. Navy ultimately will determine where the new ship will be commissioned, but the decision typically is made in consultation with the ship's commanding officer, its crew and its sponsor.

Greene said the Navy listens closely to the desires of other community members as well.

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"Certainly the people of Minnesota, of Minneapolis-St. Paul and those of Duluth have a voice that can be heard in their recommendations," she said.

Greene noted that the options for deep-water ports in Minnesota are rather limited.

"It can't happen in Minneapolis or St. Paul, but Duluth is just a two-hour jaunt up the freeway," said U.S. Navy Reserve Lt. Cmdr. Roger Reinert, a former state legislator for Duluth.

He noted that another ship of the same class, the USS Freedom, visited Duluth during sea trials in October 2008 and drew crowds when it moored behind the Duluth Entertainment Convention Center. Reinert said that previous voyage demonstrated the port's ability to accommodate a vessel of the future Minneapolis-St. Paul's stature.

"The place that the commissioning would likely take place - behind the DECC - is the same place where we do the tall ship festival every three years, and that brings in tens of thousands of people. So I think we can make a really good case for Duluth," Reinert said.

"And you know Duluth has a really strong Navy tradition going back to World War II, he said, recalling the role former Twin Ports shipyards played in the war effort.

Greene said she hopes the commissioning will help Minnesotans reconnect with the Navy.

"People don't think of Minnesota as a Navy state, but there are some strong historic ties Minnesota has to the Navy. So it's important for all of us to try to remind people of those because it's easy to forget them as the years pass," she said.

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Greene, who grew up in Northfield, said Duluth would be an attractive venue in many respects.

"There are such good, natural ties to Minneapolis-St. Paul, to the Navy and the role that Duluth plays in that, being one of the largest cargo ports in the United States ... and then what the U.S. Navy does for freedom of the seas and freedom of navigation, there's a natural way to link the Cities and Duluth with the Navy. Again, I think these are all ripe for conversation, and it's a matter of making those connections in a solid way," she said.

Peter Passi covers city government for the Duluth News Tribune. He joined the paper in April 2000, initially as a business reporter but has worked a number of beats through the years.
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