Opinion Pieces

Don’t move the Battleship Texas. It could sink in the Houston Ship Channel.

As originally posted by the Houston Chronicle on June 4, 2019.

The Battleship Texas will move from its historic site at the San Jacinto Battleground near La Porte, the head of the nonprofit that oversees the vessel said Wednesday, May 29, 2019. Photo: Steve Gonzales, Houston Chronicle / Staff photographer

Nearly 75 years to the day after playing a major role in America’s victory over Nazi Germany during the D-Day invasion, the Battleship Texas faces a difficult battle. It has survived two World Wars, but now time and corrosion threaten this 105-year-old Texas treasure.

To lose her to the scrapyard would be a national tragedy. One of my greatest privileges as the Congressman from District 36 was welcoming the U.S. sailors and Marine veterans of the Greatest Generation who served on the Battleship Texas and participated in the invasion of Iwo Jima when they gathered on the ship’s decks for the 70th anniversary of that battle.

Recently the Texas Legislature sent a bill to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk that would provide $35 million to move the Battleship Texas from its home port at the San Jacinto Battleground Historic Site to a dry-dock in Mobile, Ala., for repairs. It is unclear whether or not the Texas will return to its current location in the San Jacinto Battleground park.

As the member of Congress who represents the San Jacinto Battleground and the Battleship Texas, I am apprehensive about efforts to tow the leaking and fragile ship down the 50-mile-long Houston Ship Channel and across the Gulf of Mexico to Alabama.

The ship has undergone much repair and maintenance over the last seven decades, but never enough. Pumps have to constantly eliminate hundreds of thousands of gallons of water from inside her leaky hull every year.

I am concerned that moving the battleship could pose a risk to the Houston Ship Channel and the Port of Houston. As stated in Mark Lardas’ 2016 book Images of the Battleship of Texas, when “the Texas left her berth in 1988 to make a 56-mile trip for repair in Galveston, she filled with water faster than the pumps could clear, and by the time she reached the dry-dock, Texas was almost too low to get in.”

I worry that, on its way to Alabama, the ship could go down and block the Houston Ship Channel. The cost to our industry and to our nation would be high. And the history lost would be irreplaceable.

The Houston Ship Channel is a critical national waterway, the No. 1 port in the nation in exports, energy, and petrochemical manufacturing. According to U.S Maritime Administration data, deep-draft vessel activity at the Port of Houston is equal to the combined totals for the next three largest ports — Los Angeles, Long Beach, and New York/New Jersey.

A blockage of the channel would not only affect Houston but everyone who relies on the petrochemical industry, which provides everything from gasoline for America’s cars to strategic aviation fuels to feedstock for major industry. The industry along the Houston Ship Channel is responsible for 60 percent of the nation’s supply of jet fuel, and approximately 30 percent of the nation’s supply of gasoline. When the Ship Channel shut down for five days following Hurricane Harvey, the nation experienced a fuel shortage.

Another concern is the possibility that once repaired, the ship will be relocated somewhere other than its permanent home in the slip that was dredged for it in 1946 at the San Jacinto Battleground site. I have heard that reduced tourism is one of the major factors cited by those in favor of relocation. Those of us who suffered through Hurricane Harvey would, no doubt, understand that. Our communities have been busy recovering. As the area recovers, people will once again have the leisure to be tourists.

I am thankful to the Texas Legislature and the sponsors of the bill for the $35 million allocated for repairs and their concern for this national treasure, which the last remaining World War I-era Dreadnought battleship in the world, the only remaining American vessel to have served in both World War I and World War II, and the only American Naval ship to have served in the African, European, and Pacific Theatres in World War II.

However, I would call upon our state’s leaders to review the possibilities, explored by Texas Parks & Wildlife in 2010, of creating a dry berth within its present mooring slip to repair the ship in place. If feasible, it would eliminate concerns for the Houston Ship Channel and save the cost of floating and towing the Battleship Texas across the Gulf to Alabama. It would also give assurance that the ship would remain in its home of 71 years.

We must save and repair the great and courageous Battleship Texas, which has served our nation so well.

Babin represents the 36th Congressional District of Texas in the U.S. House of Representatives.