Legislative panel backs $9.2M loan to save ship

USS Laffey (DD-724) at Patriots Point Mount Pleasant

WADE SPEES

Patriots Point moved one nod closer to $9.2 million needed to save its sinking warship Laffey.

The Joint Bond Review Committee, a group of lawmakers that reviews state financial obligations, sent the attraction's request on to the state Budget and Control Board. But the committee issued a caveat: In order for Patriots Point to receive the loan, officials would have to submit in writing how they intend to repay it.

Patriots Point Development Authority Chairman John Hagerty said the attraction responded to that request by detailing federal funding it hopes to receive next year. U.S. Rep Henry Brown, R-S.C., requested $20 million for Patriots Point, a move supported by U.S. Rep. Jim Clyburn, D-S.C.

"We'll be looking for more," Hagerty said. "We're looking for money and any source we can find it."

He called the bond review committee's approval "a good beginning." Hagerty said the loan could allow Patriots Point to move the Laffey to dry dock for repairs by an August high tide that would provide enough leeway to move the ship without dredging.

Dubbed "The Ship That Would Not Die" for withstanding kamikaze attacks during World War II, the Laffey sprang more than 100 rusting leaks late last year. Unsure if she would survive a hurricane season, Patriots Point considered turning the destroyer into an artificial reef before learning that would cost almost as much as salvaging her.

Senate President Pro Tem Glenn McConnell, R-Charleston, said the Laffey "is a monument to the generation that saved civilization, and it's got to be preserved."

But, he added, Patriots Point must first prove it has a plan — for both funding and maintenace of its entire fleet.

"It's got to be assured they're on the front of the curve regarding corrosion," McConnell said. "We can't be faced with, 10 to 15 years down the road, we've got them rusting again. We've got to know what's going on there before an emergency comes."

The Budget and Control Board will consider the request as early as June 16.