The COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricanes Laura and Delta have kept the USS Orleck Naval Museum stuck at its location on North Enterprise Boulevard in Lake Charles. Efforts to move the former Navy ship to the Jacksonville Naval Museum in Florida have been on hold for more than a year, but Orleck Museum Executive Director Ron Williams is hopeful that it will get done.
“It’s just taken a long time, unfortunately, but we’re moving forward,” Williams said Thursday. “We don’t know of any reason why it won’t come to fruition, but after all we’ve been through, we don’t take anything for granted.”
Several steps need to happen first, Williams said. The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association, a nonprofit group, needs its mayor to sign an ordinance authorizing the Downtown Investment Authority to enter into a lease agreement with the nonprofit so that the ship can be placed on city property. The ship’s proposed location is close to TIAA Bank Field, home of the NFL’s Jacksonville Jaguars.
“We’re taking it a day at a time,” he said. “It’s frustrating for everybody, including people in (Jacksonville) we’re working with to get it through all the hoops. Jacksonville has a much more complicated government process than we do here. It’s a big city council with a bunch of commissions.”
The ordinance requires three readings before the city council and has been referred to several council committees for review, Williams said.
“We’re optimistic it’s going to take place, and we’re going to work toward that goal,” he said. “My challenge is I’m not over there to know the particular details.”
Another key factor, Williams said, is getting the ship to the Gulf Copper Manufacturing’s Central dry dock yard in Port Arthur, Texas, on a tight schedule. The goal, he said, is to get 3-4 weeks’ worth of work done quickly so it can be sent over to Jacksonville, a move that could take up to eight days.
While Hurricane Laura left the Orleck battered, the ship did not take on any water. Williams attributed that to the ship already being secured for tow.
The ship lost its gangway, which allows crews to board the ship, during Hurricane Laura. Custom Metal Fabricators in Lake Charles designed and built a new one.
“We needed that before we could start accessing the ship safely,” Williams said.
Jacksonville’s history as a naval town should provide a better location for the Orleck, Williams said. The Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association tried to get the USS Charles F. Adams, but the Navy decided in late 2018 to scrap the ship. Both the Orleck and Jacksonville Historic Naval Ship Association have been working since January 2019 to get the ship to Jacksonville.
“Jacksonville has a lot of naval history and people they can tap into. There’s a lot of potential,” he said.