Local group moves forward with plans to relocate ailing battleship

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Local group moves forward with plans to relocate ailing battleship

By PATRICK DONOHUE
pdonohue@beaufortgazette.com
843-706-8152

Published Wednesday, September 21, 2011   |  467 Words  |  

A group of Beaufort-area residents is moving forward with plans to relocate an ailing 19th-century battleship to the Lowcountry.

The S.C. Olympia Committee submitted a package this month to the Independence Seaport Museum in Philadelphia outlining its plans to move the USS Olympia from the Delaware River to a dry-dock facility it hopes to build on Parris Island.

The 344-foot cruiser has not been dry-docked in 55 years. Its hull is deteriorating, and necessary repairs are so costly the museum can no longer afford to keep the 119-year-old vessel.

Pete Richards, one of the local committee's leaders, called submitting the application "a major milestone" in the group's efforts to save the world's oldest steel warship still afloat.

"It was an enormous challenge and required a major effort to put together," Richards said. "The most important thing about all of this is that people realize that this ship is part of the American naval legacy and cannot be lost."

Launched in San Francisco in 1892, the Olympia was used by Commodore George Dewey to defeat a Spanish fleet at Manila Bay in the Philippines in May 1898 at the start of the Spanish-American War. The ship also was used in World War I before being decommissioned in 1922.

The local group isn't the only one eyeing the famed battleship.

Groups from Baltimore, Washington, D.C., and San Francisco and two from Philadelphia submitted plans to the museum for the Olympia, Richards said.

"Obviously, we are the smallest city to submit a package, but we have a very strong connection to the Spanish-American War locally, and we feel like that is a very strong suit," Richards said.

The group hopes to hear from the museum on the application next month before starting a campaign to raise the money needed to repair the ship and fund a private engineering study to determine whether a new permanent dry-dock facility could be built on Parris Island.

Museum officials have estimated it would cost at least $10 million to repair the ship.

"The money is going to be a critical issue for us, as it will be for the all of the cities vying for Olympia," Richards said. "We should know within the next week or two whether we've made the cut. That'll be important for the fundraising. It's hard to raise money before you officially know you're in the game."

Follow reporter Patrick Donohue at twitter.com/OnBaseBeaufort.

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