Thursday, September 08, 2005


Battleship Memorial Park damage worse than thought


Mobile Register
By George Werneth
September 06, 2005

The USS Alabama in 1942.

A Battleship Memorial Park official said damage inflicted by Hurricane Katrina on the park is worse than first believed and will likely reach at least $3 million.

Initial estimates had put the damage at park on the Causeway at between $1.5 million and $2 million. And the park -- one of the state's top tourist attractions -- could be closed for more than two months.

"We're hoping to reopen the park by Veterans Day," said Bill Tunnell, the park's executive director. Veterans Day is Nov. 11.

Tunnell added that the Veterans Day events normally held in the park's aircraft pavilion "will have to be held somewhere else this year" because the pavilion is "a total loss." He said the 36,000-square-foot building valued at $1.5 million is unlikely to be ready for reopening before next spring.

The Veterans Day events annually held in the pavilion include the Friends of Freedom Celebration and a patriotic concert.

One factor involved in the increased cost of Katrina's harm, Tunnell said, is that damage to about a dozen vintage military aircraft inside the pavilion is worse than originally believed. He estimated that it would cost between $250,000 and $500,000 to restore them.

Battleship park normally attracts about 300,000 visitors annually, but attendance was already well below normal this year when Katrina struck, Tunnell said. He attributed the drop-off to high gas prices as well as to tourists shying away from nearby Alabama beach resorts, which are still recovering from Hurricane Ivan. He said a lot of the park's summer visitors usually stay at such places as Gulf Shores and Orange Beach.

A major factor in reopening the park will be the length of time needed to straighten up the World War II battleship USS Alabama, which was left listing at about 8 degrees toward the shore by the storm surge, Tunnell said.

"Just the sheer size of the ship makes the project difficult," Tunnell said. He estimated that the storm surge at the park site on Mobile Bay was 12 feet.

The warship, which is 680 feet long and weighs 80 million pounds, is anchored in 20 feet of bay mud. Tunnell said Navy experts, as well as engineers employed by the park, were working to find the best way to move the Alabama back into its proper position. He said the cost could range from $50,000 to as much as $750,000. He said one possibility being considered was the use of heavy-lift-capacity cranes.

The park spent some $15 million in recent years to restore the battleship and its corroding hull, as well as restore and preserve the park's 311-foot-long World War II submarine USS Drum.

Tunnell said the two warships apparently sustained no structural damage from Katrina. He said, however, that the lights on a permanent cofferdam built around the battleship as part of the project were "blown away by the hurricane." Further, he said there was some damage to the cathodic protection system that inhibits corrosion to the underwater metal parts of the battleship and the cofferdam.

About 20 people, including park employees and their families, rode out Katrina inside the battleship, as has been a tradition going back some 40 years. Tunnell said those people who ride storms in the battleship volunteer to do so. He has said, "It's the safest place in the area to be during a hurricane."


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