Group considers options for Fairview riverfront development

After the U.S. Navy torpedoed chances of the USS Ranger making a home in Fairview by moving the historic naval ship to scrap status last summer, a local foundation is looking for ways to keep its options afloat.

“The Navy's decision may have appeared to be an end to the effort,” wrote David Todd, retired Navy captain and president of the USS Ranger Foundation, in a recent press release. “We did not believe it should be.”

After abandoning hope this last winter for preservation of the aircraft carrier, the USS Ranger Foundation has been working to identify alternative Navy vessels that could serve as a centerpiece for the community and naval heritage center in Fairview.

The group has its eye on one ship in particular — the USS Tarawa — a Navy amphibious assault ship, the lead ship of her class, and the second ship to be named for the Battle of Tarawa during World War II.

by: CONTRIBUTED PHOTO - The decommissioned USS Tarawa (LHA-1), an amphibious assault ship, is being held on reserve by the Navy with the possibility of it moving to a donation status unknown at this time.One of two Tarawa-class ships retired at a San Diego naval base in 2009, the USS Tarawa (LHA-1) was launched in 1973, and functioned as an assault and cargo ship with transport and landing docks, used to disembark Marines and their equipment.

The good news, said Shannon Chisolm, USS Ranger Foundation spokeswoman, is a ship like the Tarawa is smaller than the Ranger and won't require removing a bridge to get it up the Columbia River.

“So that takes that obstacle right out of the play,” she said.

The foundation intends to wait until the ship is released by the Navy before submitting a new donation request based on the Fairview site, which they said, “held so much promise as a future home for the Ranger.”

Docked at Pearl Harbor in Hawaii, the Tarawa is being held under the Navy's Reserve-B status with the possibility of reactivation.

According to Spokesman Chris Johnson of Naval Sea Systems Command, it doesn't look like the Tarawa will change status anytime soon.

Johnson said the Navy is keeping it for an indefinite period of time in case they need to reactivate it in the future.

No conversations will begin until or unless the ship is put into donation hold status, he said.

Fairview Mayor Mike Weatherby said the foundation's press release was the first time he had heard about the possibility of the USS Tarawa as a substitute for the Ranger.

“At this point, it appears to be a potential option,” he said. “There is a great amount unknown about it.”

While it sounds like a good idea and he wishes the foundation well, he said his enthusiasm for it depends on what's going to happen in the future with it.

And well, it's not the Ranger.

“It's difficult to get one's hopes up again,” said Weatherby, who toured the carrier in Bremerton before the Navy decided to scrap it.

“The Ranger was impressive,” he said. “It was awesome.”

The 56,300-ton Ranger once held 5,000 crew members and played a key Pacific Fleet role in Naval defense operations from 1957 to 1993.

The USS Ranger Foundation applied for the ship in 2010 with plans to turn it into a community heritage center and tourism hub at Chinook Landing Marine Park.

In two years time, the Navy twice rejected the application, finally stating the Ranger's inability to travel upstream to Fairview as one of their chief reasons to scrap the donation and the ship.

Against a creeping deadline, the Navy also found problems with the need to remove a section of Burlington Northern Railroad bridge, too shallow of waters and insufficient funds.

The Navy's decision to scrap the Ranger was a disappointment to the foundation and those who supported the efforts.

Since the decision, the foundation office has closed and fundraising has stopped.

But the foundation says the purpose behind the urge to preserve the Ranger, both in its structure and those who served in it, remains valid and largely supported by the community.

“We look forward to continued support from those who responded so positively to the idea of welcoming Ranger to our community,” Todd wrote. “Such support is a large part of making such a significant project viable.”

Another ship the best option for Fairview?

Fairview Councilor Steve Owen, chairman of the USS Ranger-Riverfront Committee, said he was very much in support of the USS Ranger and how the foundation indicated the ship would be used.

However, he, like the mayor, said he doesn't know much or anything about the USS Tarawa.

“I would highly encourage the foundation to engage the city as quickly as possible as they are thinking about doing a switch from an aircraft carrier to some other purpose because the reality is a Navy ship of any sorts may not be the best use of that property,” he said.

“Do we really need a ship in Fairview? I'm not so certain any more,” Owen said.

If not one ship, how about three?

Harnessing the momentum to bring in the Ranger and develop the waterfront, a separate group loosley defined as East County Marina Development is proposing to install a three-ship configuration at the Chinook Landing Marina Park.

The three ships proposed for donation include the retired USS Ticonderoga, USS Olympia and when it comes available, the USS Tarawa.

Multnomah County Commissioner Diane McKeel, Metro Councilor Shirley Craddick and Joe Carnevale, a Washington, D.C., lobbyist and retired Rear Admiral, met with waterfront developer Columbia Edgewater to discuss the feasibility of the project, which would combine public and private efforts and the Navy.

Dean Hurford, Bumpers owner and business partner to Garth Everhart of Columbia Edgewater, who also was a board member of the USS Ranger Foundation, said “We are still highly motivated on waterfront development. We believe we have a lot of momentum on the ship deal.”

Hurford said the group plans to "get the ball rolling" as soon as possible.

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