Facing a deadline as serious as a depth charge, advocates for the submarine USS Clamagore have asked for an extension of time to raise the money to help save the submarine. Given its value to Patriots Point Naval and Maritime Museum, officials should willingly extend the deadline.
And in doing so, museum officials should consider the possibility that they ought to refocus their own efforts on providing more financial support to save the Cold War submarine.
Unless Patriots Point changes course, one of its three remaining naval vessels will be dumped off the Florida coast as an attraction for skin divers. The decision was made because the Clamagore is viewed as a liability, with needed repairs and re-positioning estimated at about $5 million.
No question, the museum has had its money problems, most recently the $9.2 million spent to restore the USS Laffey, a World War II destroyer that almost sunk at its berth.
That problem was a failure of oversight by a previous administration, and it seems unfair to jettison the Clamagore because of that experience.
But the museum is seeing better days financially, and has been involved in high profile efforts to improve its marketability, primarily by supporting a new museum honoring those who have been awarded the Congressional Medal of Honor.
Those are commendable efforts. But they shouldn’t divert the museum’s attention from what the Legislative Audit Council found to be its second-most popular exhibit. The Clamagore has been an essential part of the museum since 1981. It is the last remaining sub of its class.
A tour of the submarine offers stark evidence of the difficult conditions that submariners faced during the Cold War, when they provided a front line against potential Soviet aggression. Many of those sailors were homeported in Charleston.
There have been other suggestions for the Clamagore, such as moving it to North Charleston where it could be part of a museum featuring the CSS Hunley, the first submarine in history to sink another ship.
That’s an intriguing idea, but keeping it at its long-time Patriots Point berth would be simpler and seemingly more easily achieved — if Patriots Point officials get on board.
Tom Lufkin, chairman of the Clamagore Restoration and Maintenance Association, says the campaign to raise money for the vessel has finally begun to pick up steam in recent weeks. The association has been joined by a group of retired business executives to map out a rescue plan.
Meanwhile, veteran submariners have offered to do some of the needed maintenance, but have been turned down by museum officials because of the potential liability.
That decision also should be revisited. Maybe the museum could check with its lawyers to see if there’s a way to hold the museum harmless. Those veterans already know their way around the submarine better than anyone else.
The clock is ticking, with only a few weeks left before the Clamagore is removed from Charleston Harbor and sunk offshore.
The cooperation of the Patriots Point Development Authority — or the intervention of the Legislature or the governor — will be required if the campaign to save the Clamagore is to continue.
All involved should get together and see what can be done before time runs out.
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