BATH (AP) – As the House and Senate move to bridge their differences over a new destroyer program vital to Bath Iron Works, two key congressmen toured the shipyard and apparently liked what they saw.

Reps. Roscoe Bartlett, R-Md., and Gene Taylor, D-Miss., both of whom serve on the House Armed Services Committee, were “very impressed” by BIW’s work force and the yard’s efficiency, said Rep. Michael Michaud, D-Maine.

Michaud and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, took part in Thursday’s tour, which came as the House and Senate were in final conference negotiations over conflicting defense appropriations bills.

The Senate spending bill authorizes construction of two Zumwalt-class “stealth” destroyers in 2007, one each at BIW and Northrop Grumman’s Ingalls shipyard in Mississippi. The House bill calls for a single ship to be built at Ingalls.

Because the DDG-51 Arleigh Burke destroyer program ends in a few years, the conferees’ decision on the successor ships – known by the developmental name DD(X) – is anxiously awaited in Maine.

“It’s so important to the future of BIW that the Senate position prevails. The House committee has slashed the DD(X) program, which is vital to the future of BIW and its employees,” Collins said.

Neither Taylor nor Bartlett met with the press following the private tour of the yard, but Michaud said their presence at the yard was a positive development.

“What’s important is that Congressmen Taylor and Bartlett understand what’s going on here,” said Michaud, who supports the Senate bill.

BIW plans to ask the Bath Planning Board on Tuesday to approve a rezoning measure that it would allow the yard to exceed the 75-foot height cap in the city’s industrial zone and erect a 106-foot-tall building.

The application said the building would set the stage for work on the new ship.

The new ship will be 600 feet long and taller than the current DDG-51 destroyers, which are 510 feet long.

“Without a facility expansion, there is significant risk that successful process improvements developed on the DDG-51 class will not be transferable to DDG-1000 due to larger ship size and physical limitations – such as building door heights and widths – imposed by the current facility,” the shipyard said in its application.

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