Thursday, March 06, 2008


Destroyer a prospect for NLR museum fleet


MWA News
By Jake Sandlin
March 06, 2008

North Little Rock’s maritime museum is studying the addition of a 390-foot-long destroyer to its site on the Arkansas River at no initial cost, the museum’s director said Wednesday.

Ship preservationists have been looking for a new home for the USS Orleck since the sale last summer of the Levingston Island property in Orange, Texas, where it had been since December 2006.

The buyers gave the Southeast Texas War Memorial and Heritage Foundation that owns the Orleck until this month to move it.

“Basically I’m just doing our cost analysis if it gets here and what it’s going to cost us [to maintain ],” said Greg Zonner, director of North Little Rock’s Arkansas Inland Maritime Museum, 120 Riverfront Drive. “For us, it [the proposal ] is just kind of sitting there. We haven’t said yea or nay.” The Orleck would join the USS Razorback submarine at the on-river museum just east of the Main Street Bridge. But its arrival would hinge on the feasibility of towing such a large vessel up the Mississippi and Arkansas rivers.

“They think they can do it,” Zonner said, referring to a group associated with the Orleck’s preservation and fundraising. “We’re not really pursuing it. I basically told them if it costs us anything, we couldn’t do it.” Bob Orleck of Randolph, Vt., executive director and treasurer of the USS Orleck Association, confirmed that North Little Rock is being seriously considered for the destroyer.

“We’re working toward the goal of getting her up there,” said Orleck, a nephew of Lt. Joseph Orleck, for whom the ship is named. “We’re hopeful that it’s a perfect fit for the ship.” The association has about 1, 500 members, said Orleck, who served on the Gearing Class destroyer. He is also president of the Orleck’s nonprofit Education Preservation and Information Corp., which promotes reunions, fundraising and news about the Orleck.

“Our group would provide not only financial support for the ship but also would help in providing a great deal of volunteer effort, not only to help with the Orleck but with any ships at the [North Little Rock ] museum,” Orleck said.

Zonner said the Orleck association contacted him about relocating the ship to North Little Rock, and he at first turned it down.

“I said, ‘ Gee, guys, first I don’t think you can get [the Orleck ] up here, and secondly we don’t have the money to do it, ’” Zonner recalled. “They came back and said, “ We think we can get it there. And can you take it if we pay all the expenses in getting it there ?’” The museum is still trying to add the tugboat Hoga that survived the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and is now part of the Navy’s inactive fleet at Suisun Bay near San Francisco. North Little Rock obtained the title to it in 2005, but it could cost the city a minimum of $ 400, 000 to transport the Hoga from California. When North Little Rock got the Razorback submarine from Turkey in 2004, the draft of the submarine — or how much water depth is needed for a vessel to float — wasn’t sufficient in shallow parts of the Arkansas River, and the craft was held in Rosedale, Miss., for more than two weeks.

The submarine draft was as much as 14 feet; the river’s channel was mostly between 10 and 12 feet deep.

Barges were eventually employed to lift the sub higher in the river to finish its journey.

Zonner said he’s been told the destroyer drafts about 13 feet now but could get close to 10 feet “after they basically empty her out.” “They seem to think they can do it,” he said.

Orleck called the movement upriver “very do-able.” “It takes an awful lot of smart people, but they will be able to do it from what I hear,” Orleck said.

Where the destroyer would be placed along the river is another question.

The museum would likely pull away the two barges moored on the river and put the 390-foot destroyer next to the 311-foot Razorback.

A distance of 427 feet lies between the Junction Bridge that crosses over the river and the end of the Patriot tugboat, used by the Arkansas Queen Riverboat operation alongside the museum. That’s enough room for the Orleck, Zonner said.

“Theoretically, it should fit,” Zonner said. “But we’re still a long way from it going there.” If the already-renovated barges had to be moved from the museum site, they could be moved upriver near Burns Park for small groups to rent, said Bob Rhoads, the city’s parks and recreation director.

“I really haven’t looked at the costs,” Rhoads said, adding that he was told of the possibility only last week. “It could be a similar situation for our rentals to smaller groups at like the [park’s ] hospitality house or pavilions. That’s one way I look at it.” The Orleck, built in Orange, Texas, and commissioned during World War II, served in the Korean and Vietnam wars. As it did with the Razorback submarine, the U. S. Navy sold the Orleck to Turkey after it was decommissioned in 1982.

It made a return in 2000 to Orange after being decommissioned from the Turkish navy in 1998.

After Hurricane Rita tore the Orleck and other vessels from their moorings at Ochiltree-Inman Park in September 2005, severely damaging the Orleck, the ship was moved for repairs. Once completed, the ship relocated to Levingston Island the next year.


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