Patriots Point is in a tight spot.
The naval museum's second-most popular ship is in bad shape, and they don't have the money to repair it.
So the Cold-War-era submarine Clamagore could end up on eternal patrol sometime in the next year.
That means gone forever. And that's a shame.
This is one of those times when the politics of extreme fiscal conservatism, which sometimes ignores common sense, is put to the test. Because the fact is, there are only two options here: Either some corporate sponsor steps up with more than $3 million to save the last surviving GUPPY type III sub, or Patriots Point gets an earmark.
Neither is likely to happen. “As much as I'd like to believe there's going to be a happy ending, in this day and time we have to face reality,” says Mac Burdette, executive director of Patriots Point.
In a city where history is so revered, there ought to be another option.
Navy guys love their ships.
They live aboard them for months, even years, at a time. They become their home. That's evident every time you see the tears in the eyes of Yorktown sailors who come in to visit the aircraft carrier.
It's the same way for the Clamagore. Sid Busch, a volunteer at Patriots Point, spent two years serving aboard that sub. When he heard that the Clamagore may end up as an artificial reef, it was like a kick to the stomach.
“I wish there was some way to find an alternative to save her,” Busch says. “She represents a big part of Charleston history.”
Time was, Charleston was the second-largest submarine base on the East Coast, and the Clamagore called this harbor its home port. Sadly, a lot of people don't realize that, or how important the Navy was during the Cold War.
And generations won't know that if the Clamagore ends up as an artificial reef.
Nowadays, Busch notes, kids line up to climb inside the close confines of the sub. They need to — this isn't just nostalgia, this is our history.
It's hard to put a price on that.
Right now, Patriots Point is in debt to the state more than $8 million for repairs to the USS Laffey.
That's what happens when you want to preserve ships that this country built to last for maybe 25 years.
The museum took a lot of heat for borrowing money for the Laffey, and that pretty much put the nail in the Clamagore's coffin. No way can they ask for more money now.
Although Patriots Point is a state agency, it is expected to run like a business. People expect all government to run like a business.
Well, sometimes businesses have to make cold, unemotional decisions. Burdette says the board realizes that, as tough as the decision is.
It's too bad they have been put in this position. But today's priority is saving people a fraction of a penny on a tax bill — no matter the real cost.
Ten years ago, no one would have thought twice about saving an educational piece of this nation's military history.
Now it seems like an impossibility.
?Reach Brian Hicks at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @BriHicks_PandC.