Baytown citizens are taking steps in a race to claim a unique and historical prize - the USS Battleship Texas.
Jay Eshbach, a local citizen spearheading the effort, met with a group of local leaders and townsfolk to discuss what obstacles they face in getting the celebrated dreadnought to Baytown.
“It’s been where it has been for 70 years, and the state is tired of putting money into it,” Eshbach said.
The committee is proposing to place the ship at Bayland Island, in sight of drivers on the Fred Hartman Bridge.
The major concern, according to Eshbach, is maintaining the ship since the state will no longer appropriate funds for it. Texas legislators appropriated $35 million to repair the battleship in February. Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill for the funds in mid-June.
The ship will have its hull and wood decking replaced as well as re-painted. In addition, an agreement was made between the Texas Parks and Wildlife to give the Battleship Texas Foundation a 99-year lease for the ship.
Eshbach said in order to show the Foundation the city means business, he plans to send out applications to Baytown citizens to ask them to pledge money for the ship.
“There is an application that I would like to go out to all area residents, and ask them to pledge money to the battleship,” Eshbach said. “If the ship doesn’t come here, there is no money. I am not asking for money this year, or next year. But, if the battleship is at Bayland Island in 2022, then I am asking for a five-year pledge to help put toward the maintenance of the ship.”
Eshbach said he is sending 10 letters a day to area folks and businesses.
“I send them the application with a stamped self-addressed to me, saying please help with this project,” he said. “I would like to get as many people as we can pledging, so when we make a presentation to the Battleship Foundation, we can say here are 100 people, organizations, groups and businesses that have pledged to give money over the next five years.”
Eshbach said the City of Galveston is the biggest opposition to Baytown getting the ship, which saw action in both World War I and World War II. There have been proposals to move the ship to Sea Wolf Park, but Battleship Texas Foundation Executive Director Bruce Bramlett has said he did not approve of this move.
Eshbach said two Galveston city council members voted against the idea and then a few days later announced a $100 million project to build a cruise ship terminal for Carnival Cruise Lines.
“(Galveston) is not interested, but the Foundation has been approached by individuals that want it there,” Eshbach said.
Eshbach said he would need help in contacting the different groups or organizations. Once Eshbach gathers the pledges, he said he will place them into a database with the help of Kyle Diamond, a Beach City resident.
Calvin Mundinger, a former Baytown mayor, said whenever a city or an entity is formed to obtain something like the battleship, which he likened to obtaining a Super Bowl, a large delegation or committee is formed.
“They come up with a package to then be proposed whoever is going to make those decisions,” Mundinger said.
Mundinger also felt whatever committee is formed to obtain the battleship, it should have city employees and administrators as a part of it.
“Then, hand it off to a sub-committee, like for dredging, and other engineers can come up with design/build plans who could come up with drawings for museum and gift shop,” Mundinger said. “Forming a delegation or larger committee, having it sanctioned by the city, and having city people on it to help with due diligence is a prudent course to take.”
Mundinger said he thought most expensive part of securing the ship would be the dredging. The 750-foot ship would need to be in about 30-feet of water. Eshbach said the depth around Bayland Island is about 8 to 10-feet.
“The Port of Houston needs to give us their blessing before we do any dredging there,” Mundinger said. “There are a lot of hurdles there. But it can be done.”
Matthew Faulkner, a Baytown citizen, said he has been involved with the battleship since 1985 and is a third-generation U.S. Navy sailor. He is enthusiastic about having the battleship come to Baytown.
“The Battleship Texas is very special to the state, and to us, it is a one-of-a-kind historical artifact,” Faulkner said. “We are Texans, and it falls upon us to take care of it however we have to. The Houston-Galveston metroplex is not a military town. We do not have a huge military presence like Ft. Bragg or Killeen or San Diego. Our kids need to be exposed to some military history. And what we have is the battleship. It belongs to us, and we need to take care of it.”
Faulkner said having the ship at Bayland Island is also beneficial to area school districts.
“This is much more assessable to the school districts in the area,” he said. “I love the thought of it coming to Bayland. It is the Battleship Texas, and we’re Baytown, and I say let’s step up and get it fixed up for generations to come.”