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East County residents rally behind USS Ranger

Shock spread through East County last week as Fairview city officials and the USS Ranger Foundation discovered the aircraft carrier, heralded as a future community heritage center and tourism hub, would be sold to a scrap yard instead.

Chris Johnson, spokesman for Naval Sea Systems Command, said there is no formal appeals process if an organization’s multipart application does not meet the Navy’s minimum requirements for aircraft carrier donation.

Although the foundation met its deadline for the application, it failed to meet the Navy’s Phase 2 requirements. Those requirements include many factors ranging from open spaces on the deck to an environmental survey of the site. The foundation is waiting for the Navy’s letter detailing the reasons for the rejection.

“Because there’s not a viable plan at this point, our policy is to move forward with the scrapping,” Johnson said.

He said it would be difficult to provide a timeline of when the ship would be sold, but private shipyards would bid on it.

Still, East County officials, volunteers and community members remain optimistic, and the news the Navy would sell the carrier to a scrap yard became a call to action to try to reverse the decision.

“This (news) was a catalyst for a lot of folks,” said Lonnie Dicus, senior adviser to the USS Ranger Foundation. “We’re reaching out to the community — to political, business and civic partners — and determining the best way to respond to the Navy.”

On its website, the foundation said it would fight the Navy’s decision after working since 2010 to place the Ranger in Fairview.

The announcement was made on the Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA) website on Sept. 26, and an email stating the same was sent to the foundation, but the actual hard-copy letter had not been received as of Monday afternoon.

It states the foundation has contacted federal delegates and key partners to prepare arguments for a NAVSEA decision reversal, and that a strategy is being developed and will be implemented upon approval.

Dicus said he encouraged community members to call their local and state representatives to express their support for the project.

Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby said the city was waiting for the letter from the Navy stating the problems with the application to determine how difficult the problems are to surmount and what it can do next to support the foundation.

“I think it’s important to remain hopeful,” Weatherby said. “To see if it’s possible to actually have this reversed.”

The USS Ranger has been billed as a center that would create 500 direct and indirect jobs, and attract 350,00 visitors per year who would spend $46 million a year in the area.

It would be preserved through public and private partnerships.

A Ranger pamphlet describes the process as “complicated and time-sensitve, requiring the support of the community and region.”

“It’s a long, complicated and extremely expensive process for the Navy to demolish a ship and cut it up,” Dicus said. “Alternatively, we’re hoping the Navy will continue to work with us. The hurdles are achievable, and nothing is insurmountable.

“This is an easier, happier path with a good outcome for all involved.”

While the rallying cries behind the Ranger are loud and clear, at this point it’s still scheduled to become scrap.

“It’s disappointing, absolutely,” said Barbara Jones, a Fairview City Council. “I’ve talked to a few people who served on the Ranger. For them, it was bringing back a piece of their life. If we could turn that decision around, I would love to see it happen, but I understand it’s a rare thing this type of decision gets reversed.”




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