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Houston Chronicle: Embattled Battleship Texas could get federal funds for repairs

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Houston, Texas, July 13, 2017 | comments
Thanks to the help of one congressman, federal funding could be en route to save the USS Texas, a 103-year-old battleship docked in the Houston Ship Channel.
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By: Margaret Kadifa

Thanks to the help of one congressman, federal funding could be en route to save the USS Texas, a 103-year-old battleship docked in the Houston Ship Channel.

The ship survived both World Wars. But now it's fighting a losing battle with Ship Channel's saltwater, which has eroded its hull and given the battleship a propensity to sprout leaks.

The ship was closed for nearly a week in June as 26 leaks were patched, costing taxpayers an estimated $300,000 to $400,000 in repairs as deep sea divers worked overnight to find the source of the leaks, said Bruce Bramlett, executive director of the nonprofit Battleship Texas Foundation, which raises money to repair and maintain the boat.

To be preserved, the USS Texas needs to be put in a dry dock, Bramlett added.

But funding for the endeavor - which could reach nearly $50 million - is scarce. And time is running out before the boat is irreparably damaged.

"The ship's out of time," Bramlett said. "She doesn't have long left as she continues to sit in the water."

Enter U.S. Rep. John Culberson, a West University native whose district encompasses his hometown and parts of west Houston and Harris County, out to the I-10 corridor and Katy area.

Though it's not in his district, Culberson, who was an American history major, has been concerned about the sinking battleship since he toured it in 2014, said his spokeswoman Emily Taylor. 

Culberson wrote an amendment to the annual National Defense Authorization Act that would create a grant program to provide federal funding to the country's battleships.

The amendment passed late Wednesday in the House.

The House is scheduled to vote Friday on its version for this year's National Defense Authorization Act. Should the act pass, Culberson's amendment will be included and en route to a conference committee.

The proposed grant program would require any federal funding to be matched by local money. And the qualifications for a battleship to be worthy of federal dollars are stringent: the ship must be between 75 and 115 years old, on the national register of historic places and in the state for which it is named.

Unsurprisingly, Battleship Texas fits the bill.

This is Culberson's second attempt to start such a grant program. He added a similar amendment to last year's National Defense Authorization Act that didn't make it through conference.

It may be a long shot this year as well. There were more than 440 amendments in the House's bill, Taylor said.

"You have to be ... just unrelenting," Bramlett said. The Battleship Texas Foundation plans to launch its own capital campaign in about two months. 

The boat has already incurred costs that, should more funding not come through, would be wasted, Bramlett said.

In November, the state paid a few hundred thousand dollars to repair leaks. In 2012, $3 million of state and privately raised money was spent on patching leaks.

And the state shelled out $25 million in both 2007 and 2015 for major structural repairs to the ship's hull, Bramlett added.

Should the amendment make it through conference, federal money would come not a moment too soon. 

Early Tuesday, the ship sprang yet another leak.

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July 13, 2017
July 13, 2017
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