Battleship Texas Needs Help

Battleship Texas
The Texas Legislature's bi-annual session begins tomorrow in Austin, and friends of the Battleship Texas are hoping state lawmakers can find the money to save the historic old dreadnought from rotting away at the San Jacinto Battleground. Houston Public Radio's Jim Bell reports.

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The Battleship Texas was launched in 1914, and she was one of America's first battleships built on the model of the British HMS Dreadnought, which brought naval warfare into the 20th century in 1906. The Texas fought in both world wars, and today she's the last World War One dreadnought left in the world, but despite her storied history, Battleship Manager Andy Smith says raising money for preservation is surprisingly hard.

"Historic ships just kind of get put to a back burner I think in a lot of places. Right now I think one of the problems is there are quite a few historic ships. We are the only dreadnought, we are the only one that fought in World War One and World War Two. We are the oldest but we're not the only battleship out there."

The Texas was decommissioned in 1948 and brought to a permanent berth on the Houston Ship Channel at San Jacinto State Park, where she's been one of the most popular tourist attractions in the state for nearly 60 years. Today, age and saltwater are her worst enemies. Despite a major overhaul in the late 80s, Smith says she's rusting and decaying away before our very eyes.

"She's not in the greatest condition, and to sum it up we're gonna lose it if we don't do something in the next few years. Just this past month or so we started getting a leak in one of our aft steerage areas. It's not gonna kill it, if you will, it's not gonna sink it, but you know you're dealing with steel that's been around for 80 or 90 years."

The Texas is in such poor condition she can't be towed to a shipyard, which means her berth at San Jacinto will have to be turned into a permanent dry-dock, where she can be repaired and remain on display for years to come. Experts estimate that would cost more than 50 million dollars, which Smith says must be raised because losing the Texas is just unthinkable.

"I can't see how the same state that in the 40s had their school children, it started in Houston collecting nickels and dimes, just a grass roots movement to collect the money to get it here and get this started, would then turn their backs on it. Yeah, it is unthinkable and it's something I cannot think about."

Unfortunately, the entire system of state parks is also crumbling and falling apart because of decades of low funding, and the Battleship Texas and San Jacinto State Park are just two of the more visible victims of that neglect. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department now gets about one third of the $100 million in revenue generated annually by the state sales tax on sporting goods, and state lawmakers are under pressure from the Governor and their constituents to triple the funding by dedicating 100 percent of that revenue to the parks department, which would spend some of it repairing the battleship. On another front, the private Battleship Texas Foundation is working to raise money from private sources. In any event, the fate of the Battleship Texas is in the legislature's hands. If lawmakers can't find money for repairing and preserving her, the Texas is doomed. Jim Bell, Houston Public Radio News.