Sunday, April 27, 2014

The History of STORIS: Museum plans thwarted - Part 2

There were two nonprofit groups, STORIS Museum (Juneau, AK) and The Last Patrol Museum (Toledo, OH), working together throughout the summer of 2013 to ensure that STORIS would have a good home in the port of Toledo where she was built. The plans would have seen the ship used for noble purposes: to share the stories of the men and women who built STORIS, sailed STORIS and made history with STORIS, as well as serving as a training platform for U.S. Navy Sea Cadets, new generations of young men and women who want to go to sea.

Attempts to secure the ship through legislative donation were unsuccessful. The last attempt in late 2012 failed because of petty party politics led by Republicans Jim DeMint of South Carolina and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma. Soon after the language for the STORIS donation was stricken -- Section 601 of Senate Bill 1665 -- and the Coast Guard Appropriations Bill ultimately passed, DeMint resigned from the Senate. The two nonprofits were forced to go through the GSA disposal process.

Discussions with GSA seemed to be going well between STORIS Museum and GSA in Atlanta. STORIS Museum was assured that GSA wanted the ship to go to the nonprofits. GSA made a lot of misleading promises about what they were willing to do to help preserve STORIS and transfer her to the Museum. They promised the ship would receive special consideration because she was listed on the National Register of Historic Places. STORIS Museum was also assured that they would have the chance to claim the ship off the surplus property list as a nonprofit for a modest cost using historic monument and educational public benefit clauses in the law. STORIS Museum was given a two-year timetable for the transfer, so all of the museum plans for fundraising, acquisition and rehabilitation were built around that two-year timetable

Then GSA apparently found a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) made between the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office and the U.S. Coast Guard written in late 2006 before the ship was even decommissioned and while she was still serving in Alaska. Under Sections 106 and 110 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, the US Navy and Coast Guard have to assess the historic significance of the ships that they decommission. As a result of this MOA between AK SHPO and USCG from 2006, the National Park Service’s Historic American Engineering Record team performed extensive black and white, high-resolution photography of STORIS and a written historical record was printed up. Instead of preserving the ship, the photos and written documentation serve as the official permanent record that the ship existed. The Coast Guard or any other government agency was then released from any obligation then or in the future to protect the integrity of the ship, according to the GSA’s argument. It’s a legal cop-out for the government to shirk their responsibilities in protecting and preserving our federally owned historic resources.

GSA could/should have performed another Section 106 review as federal funding is involved with the process of selling the ship and her historic integrity certainly was negatively affected by the results of the disposition process. That is one of the key triggers for a Section 106 review: federal funds are involved and the historic integrity of a documented historic resource is threatened by action of the federal government. This is especially true since STORIS was officially listed on the National Register in December, a few weeks before the initial discussions between STORIS Museum and GSA began rather than just being “determined eligible” as she was in 2006. GSA dodged its responsibilities, despite all the feel-good rhetoric on its Web pages about being responsible stewards of our federally owned historic treasures, following established federal preservation laws.

For the overall process, GSA halved the associated waiting periods for the various federal agencies, states and groups to put in a claim for the ship. Jim Loback of the STORIS Museum tried several times in early June to contact GSA to inquire about the process with the ship. He finally was successful in contacting GSA at 1645 on Friday, June 7, as the state claim period was coming to an end as we understood it, so he could inquire about what we had been led to believe was the next process, the nonprofit claim period. It was then that GSA announced that they had the “newly discovered” original MOA from 2006, claiming their obligations to protect the ship were fulfilled. It was GSA’s position they had no further responsibility to protect the ship or pursue transfer of the ship to the nonprofits for historic preservation. It was also revealed that the state and nonprofit claim periods were being run simultaneously. Had STORIS Museum and The Last Patrol known that, they would have reacted immediately to submit an appropriate claim for the ship through the public benefit program. 

Instead, GSA announced they would be putting STORIS up for sale the following week.

The two-year waiting period GSA insisted on became two weeks.

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