Philadelphia to scrap USS Olympia to build coral reef in New Jersey?

If you haven’t heard, the City of Philadelphia is considering scrapping a national treasure, the USS Olympia, to build a coral reef off the coast of New Jersey. The USS Olympia is one of America’s first all-steel cruisers, the oldest steel warship afloat in the world, and the last surviving veteran of the Spanish-American War (1898). It’s a one-of-a-kind national treasure on display in Philadelphia’s Independence Seaport Museum (ISM) — and now she needs $20 million for maintenance, repair, preservation, and restoration – or she will slip beneath the waves forever. The US Navy has even authorized ISM to “responsibly dispose of the Olympia.”

Philadelphia saved this vessel from scrap in 1958 and spent 5 million refurbishing her already. Now she needs another $20 million. Sound like a lot?

Consider this: The City of Philadelphia is home to 1.54 million residents (5.8 million in the metropolitan area). The City has an annual operating budget of $3.8 billion and employs 24,000 workers. In August of this year, the City announced budget cuts of more than $20 million. That said, Philadelphia also sports the highest poverty rate of America’s 10 largest cities and is infamously corrupt. This week alone, the City drew criticism for paying out perhaps millions of dollars to its executives in a perfectly legal pension scam called DROP. Meanwhile, the City is $850 million short of fully funding thousands of pensions for its rank-and-file employees. (Pension Scandal)

Now consider this. The project cost of the 2003 Liberty Bell Center was listed as $12.9 million, but was really $26.3 million including operational costs. The project cost of Philadelphia’s 2005 National Constitution Center was $185 million. This was all part of a $314 million makeover of Independence Mall.

$20 million is not a lot of money to save a national treasure. It’s equal to the cost of a facility to house one.

The USS Olympia is a treasure worth saving. Olympia served as Admiral Dewey’s flagship at the Battle of Manila Bay during the Spanish-American War in 1898. She was reactivated for World War I, patrolling off New York and participating in the allied landings in Murmansk during the Russian Civil War in 1918. Her last major mission was to return the body of the Unknown Soldier of World War I from France to his final resting place in Arlington National Cemetery in 1921. More than any other ship afloat , the USS Olympia tells the story of US emergence as a world naval power. Her majesty and modesty deserve preservation. See for yourself.

Help save the USS Olympia. Visit the Cruiser Olympia Historical Society at http://www.tcohs.org/

By David A. Ross, J.D.

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