Battleship Texas Dry Berth Project: Preserving an Invaluable Place in History
Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) is currently moving forward with critical vessel repairs to the Battleship Texas (BB-35). While now committed to making those critical repairs, TPWD maintains the long-term goal of the construction of a dry berth at the Battleship Texas State Historic Site in La Porte, Texas.
In June 2012, the Battleship Texas began taking on water at rates as high as 2,000 gallons per minute due to leaks in her fragile hull. TPWD, together with the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA), the Texas Historical Commission, the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation, and the other stakeholders for the dry berth project, determined the most critical repairs necessary for the ship and conducted those repairs. To finance this urgent undertaking, TPWD requested and received concurrence from the Legislative Budget Board to use funding originally for the Battleship Texas Dry Berth Project.
TPWD has been careful to comply with federal regulations set forth by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and Section 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act (NHPA). The recent flooding incidents served as a strong reminder that the Battleship Texas is in need of extensive structural repairs, whether or not she is placed into a dry berth.
In 1948, Battleship Texas became the nation’s first permanent battleship memorial museum, and she was secured in a slip off the Houston Ship Channel adjacent to the San Jacinto Battleground State Historic Site. A veteran of both world wars, she is one-of-a-kind as the only remaining dreadnought. Over the last sixty years, Battleship Texas has been subject to continuous environmental and physical threats while resting in the shallow, brackish waters of the ship channel. To protect and preserve this unique National Historic Landmark, a new dry berth is envisioned to provide her with a permanent home.
In 2008, the Texas Legislature appropriated $25 million for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department to dry berth the Battleship Texas. In 2009, the Legislative Budget Board approved funding for the dry berth project, provided that the ship was dry berthed in her current location adjacent to the San Jacinto Battleground. The Battleship Texas Foundation (BTF) pledged an additional $4 million toward the dry berth project.
With this funding, TPWD was tasked with accomplishing three things:
- Make only those repairs necessary to get the ship into a dry berth.
- Design and construct a dry berth.
- Place the ship into the dry berth and make her presentable to the public.
Dry Berth Still the Plan; Repairs Necessary First
In 2010, TPWD hired AECOM Technical Services, Inc. (AECOM) to survey the condition of the battleship, provide preliminary design concepts for a dry berth, and conduct the studies necessary to comply with federal environmental and historic preservation regulations.
While conducting the conceptual design, TPWD carried out the studies and processes necessary to meet the requirements of NEPA, as well as Section 106 of NHPA. As part of these two processes, TPWD conducted proactive stakeholder outreach, including a stakeholder workshop, regular consultation meetings (as required by Section 106), and a large-scale public open house. TPWD also put out a formal call for alternatives from the public, but no viable or reasonable design alternatives were received.
In 2011, the project team finalized a Conceptual Design Report that outlines two significant findings:
- Key components of the vessel are in much worse condition than anticipated.
- The cost for each of the dry berth concepts greatly exceed the available budget for the project.
TPWD determined that the available budget for the dry berth project would be insufficient to fund even the vessel repairs, let alone vessel repairs and construction of the dry berth. Therefore, TPWD is in need of additional funding sources to protect and preserve the battleship.
What do the necessary ship repairs entail?
Ship repairs will work toward stabilizing the Battleship Texas in accordance with the U.S. Department of Interior's "Standards for Historic Vessel Preservation," which define stabilization as:
"the act or process of applying measures designed to arrest, retard, or prevent deterioration of a vessel, and to assure its structural integrity. This may include the rendering of the vessel weather resistant and watertight. The essential form of the vessel shall be maintained during this process."
Critical components of the internal structure of the ship have severely deteriorated since her days of active service. For example, the ship's two 1,100-ton engines (together weighing over 4.4 million pounds) are resting on frames that are approximately 80 to 90 percent disintegrated. The frames supporting the boilers, the steering gear, and the aft emergency diesel generator are also targeted for prioritized replacement due to their similarly severe condition.
The degraded steel frames under the heavy machinery will be cut out completely and replaced to original specification where possible, and will be augmented with "doubler" frames otherwise. These "doublers" will be cut to the original specification and attached to the existing deteriorated frames and adjacent steel. While the majority of the work will not involve the replacement of the outer hull plating, the ship's resistance to flooding will be greatly improved by the proposed internal repairs. This is because the replaced frames will create a system of isolated watertight spaces within the hull of the ship. If one space floods due to a hull leak, the water will be confined and unable to flow into adjacent areas. The movement of water within the ship through the existing degraded framework was a major problem during the flooding events of summer 2012, adding significant cost and time to addressing the events.
As available funding permits, the ship will be made as watertight and weather-resistant as appropriate and approved. While a list of prioritized repairs has been developed by the project team, the estimated costs for those repairs are greater than the funding currently available. Repairs will be made in order of priority, until the funding is exhausted. The remainder of the repairs can be addressed if and when additional funding is provided.
As the battleship cannot be moved for the repairs, all repairs must be executed with the ship in her current location. The ship is a historic artifact and a U.S. National Historic Landmark. Great care must be taken to ensure that the cultural significance of the ship is not compromised.
How do the vessel repairs affect the battleship and the outcome of the dry berth project?
- First, when the repair project is complete, there will be very little, if any, changes to the ship that will be visibly identifiable. The repairs to be done are in the interior of the ship where the general public does not have access.
- Second, repairs to the ship will not preclude a dry berth. All of the repairs are necessary regardless of whether the ship stays in her current wet berth or is eventually moved to a dry berth.
- Finally, there will still be repairs necessary to the ship when the immediate repair project is completed (i.e. when the available funding is exhausted). Even so, TPWD will be significantly closer to completing the charge of making the necessary repairs required to get the ship into a protected dry berth.
April 23, 2013: Taylor Marine Construction has begun to install the construction staging area on the north shore of the Battleship Texas for the upcoming repair project. Construction trailers are set up, and a gravel road base material to protect the site has been installed. In the coming weeks, the construction staging area will be completed and fenced, and a barge will be installed between the staging area and the ship. During the repair work, all construction related equipment and personnel will come aboard the ship from the north shore, using the barge and a ladder way to access the main deck. Cranes will lift equipment and material onto the main deck of the ship from the barge when necessary. This means that the normal public entrance to the ship will not be affected during construction! In addition, there are no scheduled closures of the ship, the overnight education program, or the hard hat tours at the time of this posting. Of course, this may change as the project progresses. But for now, the Battleship Texas remains open for visitors! Come and see her!