Friday, February 20, 2015

Letter sent to AK preservation officials to ensure CG compliance with artifact agreement

There has been serious concern among many of us as to what was going on with the ship’s bell, builder’s plate and Northwest Passage plaque. These items were placed in storage at ISC Alameda when the ship was decommissioned and moved to the mothball fleet. There have been efforts by concerned former crewmembers such as Greg Papineau and Harry Meyer. We were also assisted by Damon Steubner and Rebecca Smith and the network of contacts they have. Since there is a signed agreement between the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office and the Coast Guard that binds those agencies through federal law to protect these key artifacts, I sent the following message to the AK SHPO to share our concerns, remind them of their responsibilities and ensure that the parties who are legally responsible for those key items follow through on their obligations.

The letter was sent by urgent email to Judith Bittner, the state historic preservation officer of Alaska and her deputy, Jo Antonson.
Dear Ms. Bittner and Ms. Antonson-

As you may recall from discussions and correspondence we shared in the summer and fall of 2012, I am the professional preservation consultant who worked with the STORIS Museum to successfully nominate USCGC STORIS for the National Register of Historic Places.

I wanted to reach out to you in order to open a dialogue and request your assistance related to the location, proper care and archival treatment of key artifacts that should have been removed prior to the ship's storage in the Suisun Bay National Defense Reserve Fleet, Benicia, CA,  in summer 2007. It is my understanding that several people have been attempting to initiate an effort to address this situation, but I want to consolidate all those efforts into one cohesive appeal to the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office as this matter is of an urgent nature and requires swift attention of an official nature.

As you are aware, efforts to secure STORIS for use as a living history museum ship here on the Great Lakes were unsuccessful and the ship was sold by the federal government through a questionable auction to a used car dealer from Southern California. After the buyer was unsuccessful in his attempts to extort money from the nonprofits that had hoped to preserve the ship, he was then allowed by the federal government to illegally export STORIS to Mexico for scrapping in October 2013.  From what evidence I have been able to collect from various sources, including satellite photos from the Internet and visual confirmation from a U.S. Coast Guard veteran living near the substandard scrapyard in Ensenada, Mexico, scrapping of the vessel began in November 2013.

STORIS was completely dismantled by the early summer of 2014 and no longer exists.

As a matter of course, several steps were required to mitigate the negative impact of the ship's decommissioning on her historic integrity following Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended. As a condition of the U.S. Coast Guard's responsibilities under Section 5 (A)(2) listed on pages D-7 and D-8 of the December 5, 2006 Memorandum of Agreement -- signed by Ms. Bittner on behalf of the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office and CAPT J.X. Monaghan of the Coast Guard -- key artifacts were to be removed from the ship, catalogued, preserved following established curatorial standards and federal law (36 CFR 79), and made available to museums for appropriate display. Since this document allowed the Coast Guard to decommission and remove STORIS from service and the ship no longer exists, there is serious concern among STORIS veterans and supporters as to the ultimate disposition of these tangible key artifacts that the U.S. Coast Guard was required to preserve under the terms of the MOA. These items represent all that's left of a beloved and legendary ship that should have otherwise been preserved in her entirety.

These items include but are not limited to: the ship's bell, her bronze builder's plate from the Toledo Shipbuilding Company, and the bronze commemorative Northwest Passage plaque awarded to the ship upon completion of her historic circumnavigation of the continent in September 1957. Several other items were removed from the ship and placed in storage with these major named artifacts. The storage container believed to contain these items has tentatively been located by a volunteer at the U.S. Coast Guard's Integrated Support Command at Coast Guard Island, Alameda, CA, where it was left by the decommissioning crew in 2007. However, visual confirmation of the storage container's contents to verify the actual presence and safety of the artifacts has not taken place. To the best of our knowledge, no efforts have been undertaken by the U.S. Coast Guard to safely relocate these items to a proper archival facility.

There are other key artifacts that have also been identified by former officers and crewmembers of which the current whereabouts are unknown, including a silver flatware set that was assigned to the ship as well as a complete set of Night Order books that were stored in a bookcase in the Fleet Commodore's Stateroom. These books dated back to the ship's assignment to the WWII Greenland Patrol and would be an irreplaceable record of her history. The location of these items is also of considerable importance to STORIS veterans and their location or disposition needs to be verified.

It is understood that there were several other items left aboard the ship that had various levels of significance but these were lost with the ship's sale and export.

Since the MOA ultimately became the instrument that General Services Administration officials used to justify their decision to expedite the disposal of the ship without consideration for her National Register designation -- a decision that led to the total destruction of the ship -- I respectfully request that the Alaska State Historic Preservation Office officially open an inquiry into the whereabouts of these items with the intent of holding the U.S. Coast Guard responsible for its legal obligations under Section 106 of the NHPA, to protect, preserve and interpret these key artifacts.

It has been almost 20 months since the ship was sold by the federal government and there has been no apparent activity by designated historians or curatorial staff of the U.S. Coast Guard to definitively identify the location of these items, take custody, and take appropriate steps to ensure their perpetual preservation and interpretation. Again, with the nature of the ship's sale, the buyer's clear lack of respect for the ship's history and his attempts to extort money to save her, and her ultimate fate, there is grave concern for the safety of these important items. They need to be secured and placed on display in an appropriate, controlled setting so that there may be some official reminder and interpretation of the nationally significant USCGC STORIS and her historic accomplishments. The U.S. Coast Guard's efforts to build a new national museum in New London, CT, may lead to the creation of a suitable location. The Coast Guard Museum of the NW in Seattle may be another potential display site. Regardless of where they ultimately may be displayed, first they must be collected and secured in proper curatorial custody of the U.S. Coast Guard Historian's Office…


Then the rest is contact information for me and other key people such as officers with the STORIS Museum or members of the decommissioning crew who are familiar with what was stored and where.

I received the following response from Jo Antonson this afternoon--


I just got to visit with Damon Stuebner and see his almost-done video production on the Storis.  Good story, with a very sad ending. 

After reading your email, I found the memorandum of agreement file and Judy Bittner and I reviewed it.  It is still an active MOA, although behind schedule.  Judy asked Shina duVall, head of our review and compliance unit, to contact the Coast Guard folks for an update on their work to complete the terms of the agreement.  I have copied her on this message—you have her email and her phone number is…

Glad you care!



I will keep everyone updated as I hear anything.

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