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SACBEE: Bid for USS IOWA (BB-61) ship hits rough waters

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  • Phelps Hobart
    The Navy for the third time has opened the window for accepting new bids to transfer the USS IOWA (BB-61) to an organization capable of opening her as a
    Message 1 of 1 , Sep 6, 2010
    The Navy for the third time has opened the window for accepting new bids to transfer the USS IOWA (BB-61) to an organization capable of opening her as a historic memorial museum ship.
    The Northern California based effort has the title Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square, HSMPS. Tireless worker Merylin Wong, president of the organization, and the HSMPS team contend placing the ship at the former Mare Island Naval Shipyard is a natural. The yard itself is historic, many buildings are being preserved, and the yard's museum is constantly expanding. Together there is a synergy with multiple benefits for all concerned including the area's economy. HSMPS's bid - the sole bid to date - was updated and submitted in August.
    New or updated letters of strong support from government officials, municipalities, Navy League councils, and individuals are always appreciated.
    Financial donations, pledges, loans, and loan guarantees are needed. These are key for the ship's move from the MARAD reserve fleet in Suisun Bay to Mare Island.
    Various committees associated with this project meet in the organization's office on Mare Island and in Vallejo.
    Those enthused about the USS IOWA prospects are welcome to sit in on an orientation session and join a committee. These continue to be held the third Saturday of each month, 0930, at Panama Red Coffee Company,  Vallejo Ferry Terminal, 289 Mare Island Way, Vallejo. Questions? Call 707-643-IOWA or E-mail info@.... 
    For a recent media release on Vallejo's desire to have the USS IOWA at Mare Island see the attachment.
    Anchors Aweigh for "The Big Stick"

    Bid for WWII ship hits rough waters 

    Published Sunday, Sep. 05, 2010


    VALLEJO – Since the USS Iowa was commissioned in 1943, the famous battleship that President Franklin D. Roosevelt dubbed "The Big Stick" has seen more than its share of action over the years.

    Just ask John Wolfinbarger of San Martin.

    Wolfinbarger served as a firefighter aboard the Iowa from 1944 to 1945 during World War II. He was aboard during some of the most intense sea battles and invasions in the Pacific Theater, including the Battle of Saipan, when a Japanese torpedo bomber pilot zoomed right past him as he stood on boiler-smoke watch in the crow's-nest.

    "We locked eyes for just a second and then he was gone," Wolfinbarger, now 86, recently recalled. "His plane exploded. A shot from one of our destroyer escorts took him out about 100 yards away."

    Now the retired school custodian and maintenance supervisor is the middle of another battle involving the 887-foot-long Iowa – how to rescue it from its current limbo as part of the U.S. Navy's mothball fleet anchored off Benicia in Suisun Bay.

    The Iowa is the lead ship in the Iowa class of battleships that were the largest the Navy ever floated. Six were to be built, but the Navy completed only the Iowa and three others. Sister ships Wisconsin, Missouri and New Jersey are now serving out their retirement years as floating naval museums around the country.

    The Iowa, like its sisters, is well known for its massive 16-inch-diameter guns – weapons that can fire a 2,700-pound shell up to 24 miles downrange. Unlike the others, the Iowa is the only warship in the U.S. Navy to feature a bathtub built for Roosevelt's use while aboard the ship. In fact, the Iowa was considered something of Roosevelt's Air Force One because of all the presidential shuttling it was called upon to do.

    These days, Wolfinbarger and his colleagues with the Vallejo-based nonprofit Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square are trying to move the Iowa to nearby Mare Island and convert it into a naval museum.

    But efforts to save the warship, which date back 15 years, have encountered anything but smooth sailing.

    Buffeted by politics, civilian and military red tape as well as lackluster fundraising, the project is being questioned by Vallejo and the Navy. In 2004, the project even endured a failed attempt by Stockton officials to move the vessel to that city's deep water port.

    According to Merylin Wong, president of the Historic Ships project, all of those problems plus a sour economy have stymied the volunteer group's efforts. So far, Historic Ships has raised only $1 million or so of the $12 million it told the Navy and the city it would raise for the ship to be moved and made ready as a museum, Wong said.

    To complicate matters, another nonprofit group – some of whose members were originally part of the Vallejo group – is hoping to move the Iowa to the San Pedro area of Los Angeles Harbor.

    The Pacific Battleship Center is moving rapidly under the direction of its president, Robert Kent, to take advantage of the Navy's decision in May to reopen bidding for the Iowa.

    "We're not at war with the folks in Vallejo," Kent said. "But we do feel it's been a long time, and frankly it's time for them to fish or cut bait. With all due respect to them, this was (Historic Ships') project to lose."

    Wong said that the Vallejo group has recently updated its application to the Navy and that she expects her project to win the Iowa.

    "I sincerely believe that Mr. Kent and his group do not have the Iowa's best interests at heart," Wong said. "I think if they did, they would join us and help us make a beautiful home for Iowa at Mare Island where it belongs."

    Another problem facing Wong's group is that the original wharf area on Mare Island where the Iowa was to be docked is now a maritime recycling center. And to move the Iowa to Mare Island, the channels and approaches will have to be dredged, a time-consuming and costly impediment.

    "We do have other sites on Mare Island that we believe would be perfect for our needs," Wong said, adding that a new location has yet to be designated.

    Vallejo city officials also are concerned about whether Historic Ships has the fundraising muscle to pull off the job.

    In a letter June 22, Vallejo officials told Wong the city could not commit to a dock location without first getting assurances her group could raise the funds and nail down the environmental permits needed to move the vessel. But those same officials also took time in August to remind the Navy they prefer that the Iowa stay in Vallejo.

    San Francisco-based maritime analyst Craig Hooper, author of the blog NextNavy.com, said that while he prefers to see the Iowa stay in Northern California, he has been disappointed with the Vallejo group's results.

    "I must say that I am somewhat surprised at the Vallejo folks. After all these years, they just do not seem to have their act together," Hooper said in an e-mail.

    As part of its bid application, the San Pedro center will have to prove to the Navy that it either already has or will quickly acquire the $8.5 million it needs to move the Iowa and prepare it to be opened as a public museum. Kent declined to say last week how much of the $8.5 million the center has in cash on hand.

    The center's plan must also be approved by the Los Angeles Board of Harbor Commissioners before its bid application can be filed with the Navy. So, the Historic Ships group continues to be the only nonprofit with a complete and updated application for the Iowa on file.

    The center's application is due Nov. 24. The Navy is expected to make a final decision on the Iowa's fate in early 2011.

    For ex-Iowa firefighter Wolfinbarger, who was on the warship as it sailed into Tokyo Bay to watch Japan formally surrender, there's no doubt that it belongs in Vallejo.

    "We have the experience and the expertise here," Wolfinbarger said. "Sure, we've had some problems and delays, but I'm confident we'll overcome those problems – we have a better plan for her. It would break my heart to see her moved to L.A."

    Jeff Mitchell is a Bay Area-based freelance journalist.

    USS Iowa - Historic Ships Memorial at Pacific Square  

    The Organization Recognized for Years as Offering the Most Viable Plan to Preserve and Operate USS Iowa (BB-61) as a Memorial and Museum.

    P. O. Box 361, Vallejo, CA  94590, 707-643-IOWA or e-mail: info@... 

    HISTORIC SHIPS MEMORIAL AT PACIFIC SQUARE ("HSMPS") is the leading organization working to place one of our nation's most treasured assets, the battleship USS Iowa ("IOWA"), in one of America's most valued historic trusts, Naval Shipyard Mare Island, Vallejo, California.  Located in well visited San Francisco Bay, just 30 miles from San Francisco.  Important visitor considerations include:

    The Battleship Experience -  Visitors will be allowed to tour many areas of the USS Iowa.  Nearly three football fields long, USS Iowa is one of the largest floating objects in San Francisco Bay.  Tours will be both self-guided and guided.  Visitors will be amazed as they walk the nearly 46,000 square feet of teak decks.  Guests may visit USS Iowa's enormous engine rooms, tour her huge galley that fed 3,000 sailors a day, sit inside her sophisticated gunnery and fire control rooms and, of course, visit the huge guns that could hurl a 2,700 pound shell almost 24 miles.  Everything about the battleship, with an armor belt over 16-inches thick, is enormous.  Overnight programs and re-enactments will make history come alive.  Extensive museum exhibits will add yet another exceptional educational dimension.  A tour aboard the USS Iowa is a exploration and learning experience powered by one of the most enduring, powerful and sophisticated ships ever conceived.

    Presidential Site - Guests will have the opportunity to visit President Roosevelt's stateroom and see the FDR museum, as the USS Iowa has been designated a Presidential site by the Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt Institute.

    Historic Setting -  USS Iowa is poised to become a national icon and attraction in an unprecedented manner at the West Coast's oldest naval facility, Mare Island Naval Shipyard, Vallejo, California.  Mare Island and Vallejo witnessed some of the most intensive naval ship building in history through WWI, WWII, the Cold War.  USS IOWA at this intact naval facility promises to be one of America's most potent time capsules.  USS Iowa at Mare Island promises to be a uniquely educational and moving experience.

    Spectacular plans place "THE BIG STICK" in a highly visible and dignified berth in a refurbished naval setting.  The tall and enormous buildings dating to the turn of the century, giant cranes and huge graving yards make the base look alive with a tangible naval presence.  Nearby immaculate historic houses for officers and an exquisite naval chapel are open to the public and sit astride beautiful tree lined walk ways, adjacent to visitor and trade show orientated activities sure to attract millions. 

    Location - USS Iowa could not find a more noble supporter than the City of Vallejo, a proud champion in preserving our fine naval heritage.  USS Iowa at Mare Island, Vallejo, sports breathtaking bay vistas and is at the gateway to the wine country of world famous Napa Valley.  Only a 25-minute drive from San Francisco and with hourly ferry connections to nearby San Francisco, USS Iowa is sure to become a convenient and alluring destination.

    Donor Support - We encourage you to support HSMPS by becoming a donor member, by contributing your time, by making a financial gift.  Join the thousands who have written Congress and the Navy, donated funds, and have brought their skills and energy to bear on relocating the USS Iowa as a mobilization asset to the Bay Area and continue to work on ensuring that IOWA is preserved in her retirement

    Additional information about HSMPS and the 14-year national effort to bring IOWA to the San Francisco Bay Area and eventually preserve her as a memorial and museum are provided below: 


    Experience the Suisun Bay Reserve Fleet Cruise hosted by Bay View Charters and HSMPS, contact Howard Williams at bvcharters@... or 1-800- 817-8774 for reservations. 

    The 42 Foot Motor Vessel 'Journey' is available for charter and special cruises on San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento River Delta. ...



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