Sunday, April 27, 2014

The U.S. Government and Historic Preservation -- STORIS = FAILURE

As far as STORIS goes, the U.S. Federal Government gets a major "FAIL" in relation to the Preserve America program.

This grade falls squarely on the U.S. General Services Administration, with major supporting roles played by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Maritime Administration and U.S. Coast Guard. Special individual recognition is deserved for former Sen. Jim DeMint (R) of South Carolina and soon-to-be former Sen. Tom Coburn (R) of Oklahoma for their roles in blocking the legislative donation of the ship in the first place.

Preserve America is supposed to help foster preservation and cultural interpretation of federally owned historic resources through various partnerships and programs including those already in place through existing preservation law, standards, ethics and principles.

"This is a federal initiative that encourages and supports community efforts to preserve and enjoy our priceless cultural and natural heritage. The goals of the program include a greater shared knowledge about the nation's past, strengthened regional identities and local pride, increased local participation in preserving the country's cultural and natural heritage assets, and support for the economic vitality of our communities. Detailed information on all aspects of this initiative can be found at"

Read the Preserve America fact sheet at

As a federally designated, nationally significant historic ship listed on the National Register of Historic Places, USCGC STORIS should have received special consideration for historic preservation, particularly since there were TWO viable nonprofits acting together in a partnership to preserve and interpret the ship and her history as an ACTIVE museum vessel. Instead, the government snubbed the nonprofits and sold the ship for practically nothing to a "metals recycling company" of dubious means and motives that has no apparent facility to dismantle and recycle metals, let alone undertake something as involved as legal and environmentally sound ship recycling in the U.S. That they had to take STORIS out of the country for scrapping in Mexico speaks volumes.

The paltry $70,100 that GSA took in for STORIS would have been recognized exponentially in a positive economic fashion by the communities and region around Northwest Ohio where the ship would have been based as a Museum. That is just the economic impact. The cultural and educational impact the ship could have had is immeasurable.

That's all gone now, thanks to GSA, EPA, MARAD and yes, even the U.S. Coast Guard.

An important part of Preserve America is Executive Order 13287.

The text of the order is not that long and makes for very interesting reading as to the recommended responsibilities and procedures to comply with accepted preservation practices, ethics, standards and state/federal law as they relate to historic properties owned by the U.S. Government.

"Signed by the President on March 3, 2003, this Executive Order complements the Preserve America initiative. The order establishes federal policy to provide leadership in preserving America's heritage by actively advancing the protection, enhancement, and contemporary use of the historic properties owned by the federal government. The order also encourages agencies to seek partnerships with state, tribal, and local governments and the private sector to make more efficient and informed use of these resources for economic development and other recognized public benefits. In addition, it directs the Secretary of Commerce, working with other agencies, to use existing authorities and resources to assist in the development of local and regional heritage tourism programs that are a significant feature of many state and local economies."

Several key points pulled out of the Executive Order on the Web page for emphasis provide cause to shake one's head in disbelief when applied to the massive and inexcusable situation with the desecration of USCGC STORIS:

-- "The Federal Government shall recognize and manage the historic properties in its ownership as assets that can support department and agency missions while contributing to the vitality and economic well-being of the Nation's communities."

-- "Each agency shall examine its policies, procedures, and capabilities to ensure that its actions encourage, support, and foster public-private initiatives and investment in the use, reuse, and rehabilitation of historic properties."

-- "Agencies shall cooperate with communities to increase opportunities for public benefit from, and access to, federally owned historic properties."

--  "Agencies shall use historic properties in their ownership in conjunction with State, tribal, and local tourism programs to foster viable economic partnerships, including cooperation and coordination with tourism officials and others with interests in the properties"

On its face, the language for the Preserve America initiative reads well, but in the end, it’s application to STORIS is nothing more than business as usual for the Federal Government.

It will be assumed that STORIS, her National Register designation and the actions that allowed her destruction will fail to be accounted for in the action reports for the various agencies complicit in this situation. Like so much else in the government, that will be conveniently swept under the rug to be forgotten...but only if we let it.

It all still begs the questions of "WHO?, HOW? and WHY?"

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