Monday, September 09, 2002

USS Cincinnati caught in tug-of-war

Ohio, Kentucky both want to dock submarine

By Howard Wilkinson
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The next battle in the effort to bring the USS Cincinnati here as a floating museum could be over which side of the Ohio River will be home to the decommissioned nuclear submarine.

        But there is no point on commencing hostilities between the north and south shores of the river now.

        First, the Navy must decide whether to turn loose the 360-foot submarine now collecting barnacles at a Navy depot in Puget Sound.

A vision for the Submarine Cincinnati Discovery Center:
Graphic | Text

The USS Cincinnati:
About the ship - statistics
Official ship's patch
The Silent Service - the plan
The New Mission - map route

Los Angeles-class fast attack
U.S. submarine history

        “Cincinnati and Northern Kentucky have to find some way to do this jointly,” said Joseph Jaap, the Cincinnati lawyer and former Navy officer who heads the Submarine Cincinnati Museum Foundation, a non-profit organization that hopes to raise up to $15 million to bring the sub here.

        “The Navy doesn't even have to consider this,” said Mr. Jaap. “They don't want to deal with a lot of squabbling between Cincinnati and Kentucky. If they get wind of it, they just might walk away from the whole thing.”

        The USS Cincinnati, built in 1974 and decommissioned in 1995, was one of about 60 Los Angeles Class nuclear-powered submarines, all of them named after American cities. In the late 1970s and 1980s, the USS Cincinnati rode under the waves as part of the Cold War's delicate and often dangerous cat-and-mouse games in the North Atlantic.

        When the Cold War ended, the USS Cincinnati's usefulness ended as well. Now, the foundation wants to bring it here as a tourist and educational exhibit. It would be the first such sub on exhibit in its namesake city.

        But the “least important thing” about the project right now, Mr. Jaap said, is which side of the river it would go on.

        The most important thing is the pending analysis by the Naval Sea Systems Command of the USS Cincinnati itself.

        The Navy, Mr. Jaap said, is looking at the submarine to see what operational and weapons systems on board are still classified as “top secret.” That equipment, he said, would have to be removed.

        “We'd have to see what's left and what we'd have to deal with in order to be able to exhibit it,” Mr. Jaap said.

        Mr. Jaap said local organizers have hoped to have the Navy's analysis by June, but that was delayed. Now, they hope to have word from the Navy within the next month.

        “It makes it kind of hard to raise money,” Mr. Jaap said. “Donors want to know if we can actually get the sub, and we can't tell them if it is possible or not.”

        Foundation organizers are getting some help from U.S. Rep. Rob Portman, R-Terrace Park, who has been lobbying Navy officials to release the submarine.

        “I'm telling them that it would be an excellent opportunity for the Navy to provide some public education about their mission and their history,” Mr. Portman said. “It would be the first sub of its class to be put on public display. I want the Navy to know this can be important to them as well.”

        “I can't get the sub declassified, but whatever I can do to help, I will,” Mr. Portman said.

        Once the Navy analysis is done and the decision is made that it can be displayed for the public, the fund-raising can begin in earnest.

        “At that point, it becomes relevant which side of the river it goes on,” Mr. Jaap said.

        At this early stage, only two locations have been discussed publicly - one on the Ohio side of the river and one on the Kentucky shore.

        The Cincinnati Park Board has a preliminary plan for riverfront development that would make room for the USS Cincinnati at the foot of Elm Street near the south end of Paul Brown Stadium.

        But that might be difficult because barge traffic on the Ohio River passes closer to the Ohio side than Kentucky.

        “The challenges on the Ohio side are more difficult to overcome,” Mr. Jaap said.

        The Kentucky shore, though, is already home to a string of floating restaurants and nightclubs.

        Kentucky Lt. Gov. Steve Henry has proposed putting the submarine and the science museum that will go with it adjacent to the Newport Aquarium and has suggested that the General Assembly in Kentucky might be convinced to commit tax dollars to the project or grant substantial tax abatements.

        “It may not be the most opportune time to get an outright grant of public dollars from the legislature,” said Mr. Henry.

        “But tax abatements have worked for the Kentucky Speedway, the aquarium, Newport on the Levee. I think it could be done.”

        Mr. Jaap said the foundation has always planned on raising private donations to pay the costs of refurbishing the sub and towing it down the Pacific coast, through the Panama Canal and up the Mississippi and Ohio rivers.

        Bringing the USS Cincinnati here, Mr. Jaap said, “should be a joint regional project. Both sides of the river should be involved.”

        “Visitors don't care which side of the river it is on,” he said. “A lot of them aren't aware that they cross the bridge and they are in another state. This will end up benefiting both sides of the river.”


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