The Record
By David Siders

February 27, 2007

STOCKTON – A bid to dock the historic battleship USS Iowa at Rough and Ready Island is sunk – abandoned Monday by its former patron, the Port of Stockton.

The port, which proposed in 2004 to turn the battleship into a tourist attraction, is no longer willing to host the ship at Rough and Ready Island, saying it would cost too much to secure the port from visitors to the Iowa.

The decision, made by the Port Commission in a private meeting, ended more than a month of uncertainty about the condition of the Iowa campaign. The Battleship Iowa Museum/Memorial Foundation said the port betrayed Retired Navy Capt. Jim Dodge, president of the foundation board, said the foundation likely will have to withdraw its application, now being considered by the U.S. Navy.

“These guys are digging around trying to find an excuse to get out of this program,” he said. “It’s an unconscionable act.”

Dodge said the port’s security concern is a contrived attempt to “kill the program.” And Iowa project manager Bob Rogers said security was a non-issue when he and port officials met to discuss it in 2004, 2005 and again in January. He said the agreed-upon, inexpensive plan was to fence off the ship from adjacent docks.

In a letter to Dodge, Port Director Richard Aschieris said Monday that a January decision by the Department of Homeland Security to designate the port as a high-risk facility compelled it to consider security measures.Experts advised the port that crowds of tourists would pose a risk that could be overcome only at an “extremely high and ongoing cost.”

Port Police Chief George Lerner said the port’s concern about security is one that has evolved since 2001 and that it would be impractical to dock the ship at Rough and Ready Island.

Port officials, Aschieris said, are willing to discuss docking the ship about one mile east, in water off port land west of Interstate 5. To dock the ship there, with no existing building or dock, is infeasible, foundation officials said.

Port commissioners said their decision on the Iowa was unfortunate but necessary. The port is a place of
commerce, not suitable for a museum, they said. Commissioner Ron Coale said he, like a majority of his colleagues, supported docking the Iowa at Rough and Ready Island until project financing and security issues arose. And Commissioner Steve Herum said, “Changed circumstances and cold hard facts trumped unbridled enthusiasm.”

The port’s switching course was not entirely unforeseen. After proposing the project, financing it and steering the formation of the nonprofit foundation, port officials last year began begging off – frustrated by a consultant’s dreary financial report and by political miscues in which the foundation, and the port, were embarrassed.

In May, Aschieris asked Stockton officials for a $10.9 million subsidy, warning city money was required for the project to succeed. In response, the City Council commissioned a report that said the project could cost more than triple that amount. The Iowa foundation said the report overstated the cost and said it didn’t need city money to start a museum, after all. Port officials were miffed, and the foundation and port split.

Still, the foundation relied in its application on the port’s past claims that it would donate a dock, building and 15 acres of land to turn the Iowa into a museum, despite having no formal assurance that it would. Carol Ann Hackley, president of the Stockton Council Navy League of the United States and a member of the foundation board, said it is “unconscionable that this would happen at the 11th hour.”

Mayor Ed Chavez could not be reached late Monday for comment. Councilman Clem Lee said the project collapsed when, upset by project mistakes, almost everybody “got embarrassed and ran for cover.” He said the public deserved to “have a crack at” winning the Iowa.

The Iowa foundation was one of three organizations to apply for the ship, now mothballed in Suisun Bay. A bid to dock the ship in San Francisco withdrew last week. The only remaining bid would dock the battleship in Vallejo.