Thursday, January 10, 2008

Cavalla nominated for historic designation

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The Galveston County Daily News
By Leigh Jones
January 10, 2008



GALVESTON — The Cavalla Historical Foundation is nominating the USS Cavalla to the National Register of Historic Places, a designation that would give the submarine federal protection.

If the Cavalla makes the list, which is maintained by the National Park Service, the federal government would not interfere with its maintenance or management but would review any federally funded projects that might effect the submarine.

Both foundation and Port of Galveston officials say the designation would not hamper plans for a new container terminal on Pelican Island, but the application is an unwelcome reminder of the recent disagreement between local preservationists and economic development proponents about Seawolf Park.

“I’m disappointed no one has come to talk to us or even asked whether this is going to become a project,” said Steve Cernak, Port of Galveston director. “But this won’t affect the project at all.”

The city council will consider endorsing the national register application today.

The ports of Galveston and Houston have been planning the $1 billion, 1,100 acre container terminal project for the past 10 years. It had widespread support from local officials, until they discovered the original memorandum of understanding between the two ports included the possibility of moving the park, where the WWII-era Cavalla and the destroyer escort USS Stewart are permanently berthed.

Members of the Cavalla foundation and the Galveston Park Board of Trustees, which operates Seawolf Park, said the park could not be moved because the land was given by the federal government to the city in perpetuity. Voters would have to agree to move the park, if port and city officials decided it was necessary.

Although both ports have said the move would not be necessary, the national registry listing could make it all but impossible.

Debbie Head, spokeswoman for the Texas Historical Commission, said the state agency would review any project receiving either state or federal funds that might materially alter a site with historical designation or even eligibility.

The commission recently prevented city officials from demolishing the Menard Park bandshell and forced them to alter plans for the recreation center that is now under construction. Because the center is partially funded with state money, the commission is requiring the city to restore the band shell at a cost of about $300,000.

But Cavalla foundation president Grady Harrison said the submarine’s application had nothing to do with the container terminal or possible protection from the state historical agency.

Harrison said after the Stewart received its national register designation on Veterans Day last year, the group decided to start the process for the Cavalla.

“We believe the viability and long-term vision of our exhibits is still sound,” he said. “We will see how we need to adapt should conditions of the (container terminal) project change. We need to ensure the attractiveness of the exhibits.”

Although port officials say the park would not have to move, they are concerned about the possible effects the terminal could have on park access and operations.

Construction on the container terminal is not likely to begin for another 10 years. In the meantime, Harrison said the foundation hoped to complete the Cavalla’s restoration and build a visitor’s center nearby.

Harrison also said he hoped city officials would pursue historic designations for the old quarantine station.

But Dwayne Jones, director of the Galveston Historical Foundation, said he had set aside plans to apply for such recognition because he wasn’t sure whether any archaeological evidence of the station existed.


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