NEWPORT, Ore. (AP) - Port of Newport officials must decide whether two mammoth ships that have been the foundation for docks at the edge of Yaquina Bay for 61 years should be removed or contained to reduce their threat to the estuary.
Built of concrete, the 365-foot-long USS Pasley and USS Hennebique were decommissioned after World War II.
They became the docks' foundation. Holes were blasted in their hulls so they would sink and stay put.
But by the 1970s, the Pasley began to tilt, and in 1996 it leaked about 100 gallons of bunker fuel into the bay.
Even after removing 8,000 gallons of bunker fuel and oily water from a tank in 2007, up to 5,000 gallons of fuel remains in the Pasley. The Hennebique holds 140,000 gallons of emulsified water and fuel.
An oil containment boom surrounds the two ships. It is cracked and at imminent risk of shifting further, breaking apart and dumping its contents into the bay.
The 365-foot-long ships are bow to bow and also carry asbestos, oil and gravel.
They were among 24 such vessels that carried anything from shoelaces to ammunition - big vessels with an internal volume of 23,000 cubic yards but slow, with a top speed of about one nautical mile per hour.
Conservationists say the ships should be removed. Port engineers say that option is too costly.
"We could have ourselves a spill that could ruin this bay," said Pete Dale, a former ship builder who is the port's project manager. "We need to get on with it."
Building a replacement dock would cost $30 million. The port has $18 million on hand to deal with the ships.
The port has applied for $13 million in federal stimulus money to take out the ships and restore the aquatic habitat the vessels currently displace. Port officials say they expect to hear the fate of the application soon.
In 2006, voters approved a $15 million bond measure that many in the community expected would mean removal of the ships.
But a few months later port engineers recommended containment: erecting a steel wall in front of the ships, draining the toxic substances on board and leaving the carcasses in place.
Conservationists called that a bait-and-switch, but port officials said the ballot didn't specify the boats would be removed, only that the problem would be remediated.
(Copyright 2009 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)