Batfish recovery efforts continue

The USS Batfish remains standing after near-record flooding of the Arkansas River in late May threatened to carry it away. Recovery efforts to restore the exhibit are well underway, said War Memorial Park Director Brent Trout.

MUSKOGEE, Okla. — Months after late May flooding that floated the boat in its basin, the USS Batfish is slowly listing to one side, said War Memorial Park Director Brent Trout.

"The Batfish is currently in an unstable situation. Once the floodwaters receded and the Batfish floated to its new location, the stability became in question once the soil began eroding around the submarine," Trout said. "The keel of a Balao Class submarine is actually quite narrow and having 1,600 long tons distributed to such a narrow area presents a problem."

The boat was deposited outside of its niche after floodwaters receded, leaving it perched on its own keel along the flat of its basin. The progress is slow, but certain: the submarine's listing has slowly grown from 0 percent — which is level — to 3.18 percent. 

"While 3.18% seems insignificant on paper, it is a fact that the submarine is rolling to the port side," Trout said.

That's just one of the issues facing the Batfish as it recovers from damage suffered during late May flooding of the Arkansas River. Trout listed coordinating recovery efforts between several organizations, such as the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Environmental Protection Agency, as an example.

"Today, the concerns with the EPA, Historic Preservation, and FEMA lengthen the process, but it is for the best," Trout said. "Currently, we are in the FEMA scoping process for public assistance, essentially, we are reporting our damages and categorizing the necessary repairs for projects."

Once all the damage has been identified and reported, the Memorial Park can begin receiving assistance for repairs.

"Once these projects are inventoried and reported, we are allowed to propose hazard mitigation plans, which will offer reimbursement funding for improvements to the design of the mooring system and placement that will prevent future incidents from happening at the Muskogee War Memorial Park and lessen the threat of future floods to the USS Batfish," Trout said.

In the meantime, the War Memorial Park continues working through its opening round of repairs and cleaning, establishing what Trout called "a good environment" for future recovery efforts.

"The first phase of our restoration is nearly complete, correcting and establishing a new environment for preservation," Trout said. "Since the USS Batfish experienced interior flooding and was disconnected from power, the interior humidity levels surpassed critical thresholds for preservation and began peeling tile throughout the boat, as well as causing some corrosion which has to be converted and removed. Our process has been to clean the corrosive material and flush the interior with clean water and then removing all water while establishing a new environment."

It's not just the Batfish, either — cleaning up the park itself, as well as its displays, has become a priority following the near-record flood.

"The floodwater so was corrosive that being able to power wash and paint our static displays was of extreme importance," Trout said.

Then there is the matter of moving the boat back into its original location — or rather, not doing so, the director said.

"As far as moving the USS Batfish back to the original spot, in my opinion, it is too costly for the benefit gained by doing so," Trout said. "...I do not feel comfortable just replacing the system that failed during this massive flood. We must improve our arrangement so that disaster does not happen again."

Even finding engineers to take on such a complex project was proving problematic.

"Something that I think the public does not always understand is that engineering a stability system for a 76-year-old submarine in Oklahoma is not something that many individuals have qualifications for or want to take a risk on," Trout said. "Selecting an engineer and construction firm was extremely time consuming as it had to be a group that could have the vision to work on such an interesting project."

Trout said he and the engineering team had some ideas for how best to ensure the Batfish doesn't float away in another flood, as well as guiding back to its original cradle once potential floodwaters recede.

"My preferred solution is to place pylons with an adjustable mooring line system that will accommodate the Batfish during a flood by allowing the submarine to float, but will be adjustable so that when floodwaters recede, the Batfish can land exactly where it needs to go," Trout said. "This is a practical, budget-minded solution – but combining such a system with a cradle system, similar to other museum submarines, would absolutely be the best for preservation, display, and long-term viability."

While most 2019 events have been canceled in the wake of the flooding, Trout said, the team still planned to release a calendar of 2020 celebrations.

"Once the development and stabilization is underway, our staff has plans to begin developing our 2020 calendar of events," Trout said. "Things like USS Batfish Easter Egg Hunt, Batfish Fun-Run, overnights, Halloween Paranormal tours, cooking demonstrations, hands-on history sessions, and other programs will be offered to our patrons throughout our next calendar year."

With all that work ahead, Trout said a timeline for reopening the USS Batfish remained murky.

"Short answer, we do not have an exact date in which the USS Batfish will be reopened," he said. "Acquiring funding and completing the projects as we can is our current goal and ensuring that we never have a similar situation with the USS Batfish is our priority. We will reopen before next summer, that is our make or break date."


Oxendine writes for Muskogee Phoenix, a CNHI News Service publication.

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