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What Bellingham REALLY needs: A waterfront monument to dumb government

Note to Bremerton: We're coming after one of your mothballed ships

In this decidely not-to-scale photo illustration, the mothballed Naval vessel Independence, now moored in Bremerton, graces the waterfront of Bellingham as a permanent floating monument to government stupidity. (Bellingham waterfront image by Hailey Hoffman/Cascadia Daily News; ship image courtesy U.S. Naval Air Crewman 2nd Class Nicholas Kontodiakos. Photo illustration by Jaya Flanary/Cascadia Daily News)
By Ron Judd Executive Editor

What do we want? A battleship.

When do we want it? A year from now, latest.

In the spirit of last week’s missive on “nice things” that Bellingham wants/needs, the more free-thinking minds (well, one of them) at Cascadia Daily News has conjured a bigger, clearer answer: Some splashy major, godawfully overpriced military industrial complex hardware.

Like a battleship, or reasonable facsimile.

Being a short skip/hop from Bremerton, a town that has historically collected such stuff, it didn’t take long to find it.

It’s the USS Independence, LCS-2. And it’s got Bellingham’s name all over it.

Or soon will.

This uniquely useless, 418-foot vessel, actually a “littoral (fancy name for nearshore — as it turns out, very, very nearshore — waters) combat ship,” is just bobbing away in the Pacific Reserve (AKA mothball) fleet at Naval Station Bremerton. There, if it follows the ignominious path of retired predecessor ships (including a namesake, USS Independence, CV-62), facing a likely eventual death at some foreign scrap yard.

We’d like to offer it a more glorious future. In still-cheeky Bellingham, it can finally realize its highest purpose — a permanent monument to waste and inefficiency, chemical toxicity and general ineptitude, in a local setting literally steeped in all of the above.

The Indy would be warmly and mockingly welcomed in a new home on the Port of Bellingham’s main wharf.

The Port of Bellingham’s finest hour, in waiting

Let’s face it: The port, which of late specializes in abandoned waterfront warehouse space, needs a PR boost, showing it has the ability to deliver the tourist-dollar goods in a way more exciting and Insta-friendly way than a dirt bicycle track and bitter IPAs flowing from surplus shipping containers.

It has all the wharf space necessary for the Indy, which would be the star attraction the city’s waterfront needs.

Think about it. Picture it. Dream it.

Actually don’t bother; we’ve done it for you. See the attached “artistic rendering” of the Indy at The ‘Ham, right here on our own attention-starved waterfront.

Seriously: Just look at that thing. Oh yes, it will be ours.

This column may serve as the official notice that the taxpaying citizens of Whatcom County want the same derelict-naval-vessel-considerations already granted to other stepsister communities on Puget Sound.

Let it be known in the Congressional offices of certain elected officials, who should not be named but are often called U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen, that this is a non-conditional demand.

Surely Larsen, in his capacity of ranking member on the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, can find a spare federal tug. We expect the Indy to be towed here within, oh, a year from now, delivered with a few hundred yards of containment booms, just in case.

Let’s seize the moment

The timing is perfect. At some point the hardy workers down at the waterfront will all be in traction after moving a million metric crap-tons of giant boulders onto barges bound for another permanent federal government make-work jetty project at the mouth of the Columbia River. Additional dockside scrap-heap workers are about to get big pink slips.

Soon as the last scrap-metal barge pulls out, the Indy can slide right in.

Imagine, if you will, a year from now, when the vessel, draped with bunting, is re-decommissioned here in Bellingham, fulfilling multiple waterfront needs in a single, low-cost acquisition:

  • The ship’s 11,000-square foot (!) flight deck, designed to accommodate two MH-60R/S Seahawk helicopters, could fulfill the critical need for an expansive rooftop bar, with a bandshell on the south side and seating for hundreds of ‘Hamster celebrants. Suitable for weddings, and, assuming proper permits are obtained, burials at (Salish) Sea.
  • From the ship, killer views in every direction of the waterfront complex’s most compelling features: The Iconic Acid Ball, the Iconic Overpriced View-Blocking Waterfront Condos and the Iconic Toxic Sludge Basin and adjacent Sludge Trail.
  • Tremendous tourist attraction for curious Canadians — who run an entire country for less than the cost of a fleet of these babies — freeing countless parking spaces at Trader Joe’s.

Consider, if your federal tax-filing brain can avoid blowing up over this, this ill-fated vessel’s well-documented, big-league pork pedigree:

Origins: The ship was designed by renowned Pentagon-waste-king General Dynamics and built by Austal USA in Alabama. Launched in 2008 and commissioned in 2010, its advertised cost was $220 million.

Actual cost: $700 million — plus!

Planned use: Nearshore delivery of weapons and personnel in places with essentially no defenses stiffer than a 12-foot runabout skippered by an old man with a blow gun. (The Navy conceded the ship was “ill-suited” to survive in a “hostile combat environment.”)

Actual use: Spinning some sea donuts during its finest hours — naval exercises in July 2014, where the vessel managed to not sink or tip over as it successfully “maneuvered through a mock minefield” while operating two helicopters “near simultaneously” and launching some small boats. (Note: This is a feat we are fairly certain was also accomplished at least twice by the underaged crew of “Below Deck Down Under, Season 2.”)

Crippled from birth: A 2009 inspection of the ship found 2,080 discrepancies. Sea trials were delayed for two years, during which the aluminum-hulled vessel was discovered to suffer from “aggressive corrosion.” Crack naval engineers later devised an attempted fix: a “cathodic protection system” employing sacrificial metals — an ingenious solution already familiar to generations of drunken U.S. skippers of 12-foot bass-fishing boats with 8-horse Evinrudes.

Later, the entire class of littoral ships was reported to be a fantastic boondoggle, with many more ships built than the Navy ever wanted, “at an estimated lifetime cost that could reach $100 billion or more,” according to ProPublica. Sailors spent so much more time repairing than sailing the helpless floating boxes that, “the stress led many to seek mental health care.”

Alarming fact: While this ship was mercifully decommissioned in 2021 in San Diego, and nine others faced the same fate, 20 ships of the same design are still in somewhat “active” duty, protecting America from seagoing menaces including terror kayaks, aggressive porpoises and unruly blowfish.

A side of pork with that pork, please

Given those gold-standard qualifications for memorializing government waste, all that’s left to consider is the matter of regional interior-waters pork equity.

• It’s well known that Bremerton was literally founded on the prospect of incoming federal government shipyard funds — a flow of cash that continues. And don’t even get us started on the price of the nuclear sub fleet on Hood Canal. But all told, it’s been give, give, give from taxpayers to Kitsap County forever. Time for a smidgeon of take from up here in lower Juneau.

• Just down the road from us, the City of Everett qualifies as a true regional champeen in pork-hoovering, thanks to its rich history of military contracts for Boeing, the no-bolts aerospace firm. Not to mention the decidedly non-strategic homepork that became Naval Station Everett — a sprawling Reagan-era facility with an entire battle group set to be the future home of a dozen new Constellation-class guided missile frigates that will cost more than a billion bucks apiece.

One question: Where the hell is ours?

All we’re asking for is one lousy leftover ship. Maybe a few mooring lines. And a case or two of powder-only cannon blanks, just to spook some folks up in White Rock, suddenly staring down the barrel of our new town gun. This isn’t an aircraft carrier. You could tow it with a fishing boat.

It doesn’t seem too much to ask. So we’re going to insist upon it.

If said ship is not freed from its mooring lines and headed in our direction by, say, this day a year from now … something will happen. Count on it.

We’re not easily bored, nor tired, so the watchful eyes of this column will remain fixed on federal offices until this historic regional pork imbalance is corrected.

While short in tenure, we have a long memory here. And history shall not forget.


Ron Judd's column appears weekly; ronjudd@cascadiadaily.com; @roncjudd.

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