The South Shore Bellwether
Volume 2 • Issue 1
USS Des Moines CA-134 in reserve fleet berth at Philadelphia Naval Shipyard.~ Courtesy AO3 Brian S. Bell USNR. Photographed December 2001.
or not to berth
by Michael Timm
t may be in mothballs awaiting its fate in a Philadelphia dock alongside other ghosts of American naval supremacy, but a warship that never fired a single shot during its tour of duty in the 1950s may precipitate a mortar fire of a different kind when an open hearing is held Jan. 19 to discuss permanently mooring the ship at the Milwaukee lakefront. e USS Des Moines has become a ship of dreams for some well-organized veterans looking to make it a memorial commemorating generations of American armed service men and women—at the same time it has become a ship of nightmares for citizens and groups concerned about the numerous costs involved in giving the Des Moines a new home in Milwaukee. e Lakefront Development Advisory Commission, formed in 2004 to provide a crow’s-nest view for lakefront development projects by assembling members of various government departments for the city and the county, will host the public hearing. e proponents of the Milwaukee—USS Des Moines Historic Naval Ship Project, the nonprofit organization comprised mainly of veterans who supplied the vision to berth the ship in Milwaukee, will likely face criticism as the commission makes preliminary assessments of the plan’s merits and hears citizen questions and comments.
Volume 2 • Issue 1 • January 2005
Chief among concerns is why the Des Moines belongs in Milwaukee and to what extent the 6-story ship may mar the Milwaukee lakefront instead of enhancing it. Critics point out that a similar plan to bring the Des Moines to permanent harbor in Duluth, Minn. failed when citizens there voted the option down in a 1998 referendum.
Environmental concerns also appear near the top of the list, as old navy vessels make critics such as the Sierra Club and the local Preserve Our Parks wary of lingering asbestos, fuel, lead, mercury or PCBs that may taint Lake Michigan. e Des Moines project calls for a restoration of the vessel, aimed at cleaning up the ship before it would arrive in Milwaukee—with an initial $20 million price tag including the purchase of the ship. Concerns remain about potential hidden costs even if the ship were restored, such as the need for additional parking, an additional breakwater, and additional security measures. Des Moines advocates claim theirs will be a self-sufficient enterprise—not relying on taxpayers—and one that would attract revenue as tourists pay to prowl the decks of the last remaining World War II ship of its class while exploring a naval museum between its bulkheads. Still others question the dignity of a tourist attraction that doubles as a tribute to veterans. e Milwaukee—USS Des Moines Historic Naval Ship Project is looking to lease one acre of land in Veterans Park indefinitely in order to establish mooring equipment necessary to secure the ship that would face the War Memorial and the Milwaukee Art Museum. If the group cannot secure a local government go-ahead by May 2005, it may be unable to secure sufficient funds to prevent the navy plans to scrap the Des Moines or use it as target practice.
e Lakefront Development Advisory Commission will apply its lakefront development criteria to evaluate the Des Moines plan. ose who want to learn more can attend the public hearing Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 6:30pm in the Harbor Lights Room of the Downtown Transit Center located at 909 E. Michigan St. •
Lakefront Development Advisory Commission, Room 203, 901 N. 9th Street, Milwaukee, WI 53233.
Milwaukee—USS Des Moines Historic Naval Ship Project, Inc., P.O. Box 144, Greendale, WI 53129-0144.
Preserve Our Parks, 312 East Wisconsin Ave., Suite 210, Milwaukee, WI 53202. USS Des Moines
Known affectionately as the “Daisy Mae,” after the cartoon woman who played opposite Li’l Abner and who was painted on its hull, the Des Moines is designated a Des Moines Class heavy cruiser.
Constructed in 1945, the Des Moines (CA-134) was launched in 1946 and commissioned in 1948. From 1949 to 1956 it was the flagship of the Sixth Fleet, which patrolled the Mediterranean Sea and Atlantic Ocean during the Cold War. It was decommissioned in 1961 and has since rested in a Philadelphia dock.
The ship is just over 716 feet long, 76 feet wide at its widest and 125 feet tall at its tallest. It displaces 17,000 tons of water. In its prime the Des Moines could reach a speed of 33 knots (37.97 mph) and was armed with nine 8-inch guns.
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